Could you provide an overview of Lithium Americas and its project portfolio?
Lithium Americas is an advanced stage developer focused on bringing lithium projects to production. We have projects in both the USA and Argentina that offer various types of lithium resources. We have a joint venture for our Cauchari-Olaroz project in the Jujuy province of Argentina that is expected to be in production in 2022. We also recently acquired the Pastos Grandes project in Argentina. In Nevada, Lithium Americas owns 100% of the Thacker Pass project, which contains the largest known lithium deposit in North America and has a Record of Decision in hand. The asset is an unconventional source of lithium from a sedimentary deposit, which is basically a lithium-rich clay. Here, we have successfully put together a pilot plant that extracts the lithium from the underlying ore before converting it to lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide. We have started discussions regarding financing Thacker Pass and are awaiting state-level permit clearances. By the end of the first half of 2022, we plan to have all permits and appeals cleared and updates on our partnering and financing process.
What is the current mineral resource estimate for Thacker Pass?
In October 2021, we updated Thacker Pass’ measured and indicated resource, which was close to 14 million tonnes, the largest in North America by far at this point. That only included a portion of the property, and we will continue to conduct exploration. The potential scale of the project allows for a long mine life and high levels of production for decades.
Can you tell us about the capabilities of your integrated pilot plant?
We built a pilot plant in 2019 that has been operating continuously since. We have made tons of lithium sulfate, the intermediary product before processing lithium carbonate or hydroxide. As we prepare to formally apply for Department of Energy grants for our novel deposit and extraction techniques, our plan is to place the entire processing circuit under one roof. We have leased a new facility in Reno and are currently in the process of moving the existing pilot plant over, as well as transporting equipment from our vendors to the site. This will allow us to continually optimize the process and train operators during the construction phase.
What extraction techniques will you use at Thacker Pass?
The geology is unique in that it lends itself to off-the-shelf conversion technology. The material was originally formed as sediment at the bottom of an ancient volcanic lake, and we are returning it to its natural state by putting it back in a solution. We then put it through a hydro cyclone, and via particle-size separation, we can take the cut containing the highest concentration of lithium, with no crushing or calcining required in the process.
How does Lithium Americas incorporate the theme of sustainability into its operations?
First, we will not develop anything in the mountainous area of our Nevada property and will only conduct operations where the environment is a poor habitat for wildlife. In terms of operations, our open pit is shallow at 300 feet, and during the course of the mine we will conduct concurrent reclamation. At any point, only 35% of the pit will be open. Basically, we take the material out, sift it, then put it back into the ground. This whole supply chain process occurs on-site, including a co-located sulfuric acid plant that naturally generates considerable heat, to provide enough power for most of our needs. We will get supplemental power from hydro or geothermal sources, with the goal that power used at Thacker Pass will be carbon neutral. Additionally, we minimize our water usage through recycling and reuse. We use around 100 liters of processed water per second, which is less water intensive than comparable operations. In terms of air emissions, we utilize the best available control technology that allows us to emit less than 50 mt/y, making us one of the best plants in the US. Lithium Americas has gone beyond regulatory requirements to minimize our footprint. We even considered how to minimize the impact of the design and color of our buildings on the natural landscape. We take the same approach to engaging with the local community — looking to invest into sustainable growth that attracts people to stay long-term.