By Ian Foreman
Century Lithium Corp. [LCE–TSXV; CYDVF-OTCQX] is a company on a mission – it is advancing its wholly owned Clayton Valley Lithium Project to a production decision as quickly as possible with the goal of becoming a domestic producer of lithium for the growing electric vehicle and battery storage market.
And this isn’t just wishful thinking… the 5,585 acre Clayton Valley Lithium Project, located in west-central Nevada, is host to a sizeable flat-lying deposit that is exposed at surface and continues to a depth of 467 feet. The probable mineral reserve totals 213 million tonnes with an average grade of 1,129 parts per million (‘ppm’) lithium using a cut-off grade of 900 ppm lithium and the indicated mineral resource totals 1,304 million tonnes with an average grade of 905 ppm lithium based on cut-off grade of 400 ppm lithium.
Their encouraging pre-feasibility study on the project indicated the potential for a 40-year mine life with an average mine production rate of 15,000 tonnes per day to produce 27,400 tonnes Lithium Carbonate Equivalent (“LCE”) annually. To further the potential economics the study showed a 25.8 % internal rate of return, and a capital cost payback of 4.4 years based on a lithium carbonate price of $9,500 per tonne.
Setting a frenetic pace
In order to reach a production decision as quickly as possible Century Lithium has set an aggressive schedule to advance their project. This includes continued testing of lithium-bearing claystone material at its lithium extraction facility while moving toward the completion of a feasibility study, which they anticipate having completed prior to Q3 2023.
With the anticipated favourable results of the feasibility study, the company plans to complete a Plan of Operations, begin the national environmental permitting process with the Bureau of Land Management, begin their environmental impact study, and begin state and local permitting processes – all prior to the end of 2023.
Should everything advance on schedule, they forecast that construction could begin as soon as the second half of 2025.
Refining the extraction process
The management of Century Lithium have tackled the challenges of being one of only three to advance a Nevada claystone lithium project to the feasibility stage head on. There wasn’t a roadmap as there is for the other commodities. As such they realized early on that they needed to get a handle on the recovery process(es) for lithium extraction. To that end they set up a lithium extraction facility, or pilot plant, which is located at del Sol Refining, approximately 125 miles south of their project. This pilot plant is providing essential data for the ongoing feasibility study and is now one of the largest, fully permitted and active lithium extraction facilities in North America. Since its start-up, the pilot plant has operated in 28 cycles of continuous 24/7 operation and has tested almost 10,000 samples of solutions, solids and precipitates.
In September of 2022 Century Lithium achieved a significant milestone when they successfully produced 99.94 % Li2CO3 (“lithium carbonate”), which not only surpasses the industry standard for battery grade lithium carbonate but achieves the standard for enhanced battery grade lithium carbonate for electric vehicle use.
Lithium battery manufactures will have specific requirements for lithium carbonate used in their products dependent on application. To that end, Century Lithium is producing marketing samples to support negotiations with potential offtake and strategic partners.
This month the company announced a continuation of its collaboration with Koch Technology Solutions, a Koch Engineered Solutions company, in the application of the Li-Pro™ process for direct lithium extraction. The Li-Pro™ process is made up a series of specialized separation processes for lithium extraction and refinement that produces a purified, concentrated lithium chloride product that is suitable for conversion to lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide for use in battery production.
As part of the program, which is independent from the ongoing feasibility study, certain key components of the Li-Pro™ process will be tested at Century Lithium’s pilot plant. The information obtained from these new studies is anticipated to be included in the full-scale deployment of the Li-Pro™ process in the near future.
Feasibility Study and Environmental Considerations
The feasibility study on the project began in February 2022 and is advancing on schedule. The on-site infrastructure designs, including mine, processing plant, and tailings and waste storage facilities are completed. The cost estimation and market studies are underway as well as assessments for construction, component lead-time and off-site infrastructure. The updated resource and reserve estimates are scheduled to be the next completed tasks. These will then await the integration of the design, engineering and cost estimates for the chlor-alkali plant, which are also underway.
Mine planning relies on many complex factors with the environmental considerations of a future mine being of paramount importance. Water in Nevada is a limited resource and Century Lithium owns water rights in Clayton Valley that will provide a majority of the project’s future water requirements. A vast majority of the water will be used in the processing of the lithium bearing claystones. The Li-ProTM process that is being implemented in the pilot plant optimizes water usage and will minimize the amount of water required. In addition to this, the Pilot Plant has successfully operated using 100% recycled solutions.
The foresight of management doesn’t stop at working to source and limit its water use; in a move to anticipate the future requirements for power, the company is helping mitigate its future energy requirement by purchasing a geothermal lease in the Clayton Valley and is currently pursuing options for solar power generation near the project. Infrastructure surrounding the project is good as the property lies immediately east of Albemarle’s (ALB – NYSE) Silver Peak mine, North America’s only lithium brine operation.
So, all the pieces seem to be falling into place for Century Lithium – the deposit has robust economics, a feasibility study is nearing completion, and it seems that a production decision is on the horizon. The market reacted very positively to their recent name change, from Cypress Development, as it better reflects the company, it’s project and its vision.
Are the stars aligned for Century Lithium to become North America’s first producer of lithium from claystone? Well, if management has anything to do with it, their diligence will be paid off in spades.