Global Mining Group Rio Tinto Sets its Sights on California for Lithium Production

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【Summary】One of the world’s largest mining groups, Rio Tinto, is looking to start a pilot lithium production plant in California, as it considers becoming a top supplier in the United States.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Dec 04, 2019 8:00 AM PT
Global Mining Group Rio Tinto Sets its Sights on California for Lithium Production

Lithium mining is expected to become even more popular as more electric cars hit the market. Lithium is used in all sorts of batteries, including ones in phones, laptops, and cars. According to Mining Technology, lithium mines are located around the world, but Western Australia has five of the world's largest lithium mines. 

Rio Tinto Group, which is one of the largest mining groups in the world, has set its sights on another part of the world for a new pilot lithium production plant: California.

California Could Be Key For Rio Tinto
According to Bloomberg, Rio Tinto Group is considering California as the site of a new pilot production plant as the company is considering becoming a top domestic supplier in the country. Understandably, the group is looking to get things sorted out before the rise of electric vehicles in the U.S.
In an email with the outlet, Rio Tinto stated that work to reprocess waste piles from a 90-year old mining site in Boron (roughly 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles) led to the successful production of lithium carbonate, which is a necessity when producing batteries for electric cars. Now, the company is focusing on increasing volume and improving quality.
A previous report from Bloomberg claimed that demand for lithium is set to increase by eight times the current amount by 2030 when electric vehicles are expected to take off. The expected increase could explain why Rio is looking to add lithium to its already diverse mining operations.
"If the trials continue to prove successful, this has the potential to become America's largest domestic producer of battery-grade lithium – all without the need for further mining," Bold Baatar, chief executive officer of Rio's energy and minerals division told the outlet in a statement. The decision to have a lithium mining operation in the U.S. would bring Albemarle Corporation's Silver Peak operation in Nevada, which is currently the only supplier in the country, some competition.

No Digging Required
The outlet states that Rio has held conversations with a few key companies in the EV sector, including CATL and Tesla.
A pilot plant in Boron would cost approximately $10 million in the first phase and produce roughly 10 metric tons of lithium carbonate a year. There wouldn't be any actual mining, though, as the company would put decades-old mining waste through chemical processing to extract the resource.
While Boron isn't as well known as Los Angeles, the little area has been crucial for borate production, which is a material that's used in things like laundry soap and components for nuclear reactors. Companies have been getting borate out of Boron since 1872, claims Bloomberg. 

Rio states that there are at least 80 minerals that can be found in the material at the site and the company had discovered lithium when they were actually looking for gold.
Based on how the pilot plant goes, Rio could pour a $50 million investment to build an industrial-scale lithium plant in the area that could be good for 5,000 tons a year. What that figure equates to in the real world is enough material to produce batteries for roughly 15,000 Tesla Model S sedans, states the company.

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