Lepidico Chemcial Plant (looking south)

Lepidico, a lithium mica processing company committed to producing lithium in a more environmentally friendly manner, has made significant progress towards building its plant in the UAE. The Australian firm has successfully completed crucial steps in detailed design and engineering for this project. Currently, it is finalising its funding and investment plans to commence construction in KEZAD.

“This project marks a groundbreaking chemical plant on a commercial scale, set to produce approximately 5,500 tonnes of lithium hydroxide annually. It is anticipated to be one of the world’s most environmentally friendly lithium chemicals,” states Joe Walsh, Managing Director, Lepidico.

DLE 20 Phase 3 Image Credit:

“Compared to conventional hard rock lithium chemical production methods that involve high temperature and/or high pressure processes, our development and operating risks are significantly lower. Our capability to deliver lithium hydroxide or carbonate, along with other strategically demanded metals, is sustainable and cost-competitive. Furthermore, our process generates no solid waste, which distinguishes it from conventional hard rock methods that are both energy-intensive and wasteful. Hence, this project is well-aligned with the Abu Dhabi government’s Vision 2030,” Walsh adds.

Lithium, as one of the lightest metals, finds widespread applications in lithium-ion batteries, medical devices, ceramics, glass, lubricants and nuclear technology.

A product from the Lepidico mine Image Credit:

Given the global emphasis on sustainability and environmentally conscious practices, both in the corporate and governmental spheres, it is imperative to adopt cleaner and greener approaches to conducting business.

Lepidico has been engaged in discussions with the UAE and US governments for securing funding for the project. It is collaborating with Signum Capital, a debt advisory firm based in London. Walsh remarked, “Over the course of about 15 months, we’ve been in talks with a state-owned Abu Dhabi organisation regarding core funding for establishing the chemical plant in Abu Dhabi. Additionally, we are in negotiations with the Development Finance Corporation, a division of the US government, to secure debt funding for the upstream segment of the project in Namibia.”

The overall project necessitates developmental capital amounting to $266 million, with slightly over $200 million to be invested in Abu Dhabi and approximately $64 million in Namibia.

“Funding is a critical component of the project. Our technical team is currently focusing on optimisation initiatives, and we are poised to proceed. Our project is exceptionally sustainable, presenting a compelling opportunity to introduce a new source of lithium chemicals that are pivotal for the UAE’s energy transition,” states the Managing Director.

A Lepidico mine employee Image Credit:

In the previous year, Lepidico conducted field trials in collaboration with the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), a Dubai-based non-profit organisation. The trials aimed to explore the potential use of gypsum residue in agriculture. A recently released evaluation report demonstrates enhanced yields and improved growth statistics for crops such as wheat and squash.

Walsh comments, “This approach holds promise for enabling agricultural production using partially saline waters, particularly in arid regions within the UAE. It underscores how innovative problem-solving can lead to inventive solutions. Lepidico’s Abu Dhabi plant will stand out as the first lithium chemical plant with no solid process waste. Initially, we will likely employ gypsum residue as a construction material. However, its versatility allows multiple potential uses, including agricultural applications, and it is poised to generate substantial carbon credits.”

These experiments have garnered considerable interest. Lepidico has received letters of intent from entities within the UAE for products that could amount to four times the anticipated annual production of the plant.

Lepidico also has plans to be an early adopter of green hydrogen, a move that could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds. Walsh explained, “Initiatives within the Khalifa Economic Zones Abu Dhabi are geared towards bringing commercial quantities of green hydrogen. Once green hydrogen becomes accessible within the KEZAD Industrial Park, we will be well-prepared. This could potentially make us the world leader in the least greenhouse-gas-emitting lithium production.”

The commencement of production by Lepidico is projected for late 2025 or early 2026. However, this timeline is contingent on securing the necessary finances and investments. The project is designed to be sufficiently large to yield favourable economic returns while also being manageable in terms of scaling up risks.

Walsh emphasises, “We view ourselves as a growing enterprise, aiming to establish more chemical plants of this nature. We are evaluating the feasibility of constructing a second plant, potentially in the UAE, Namibia, or the US. In due course, we anticipate multiple plant constructions. Meanwhile, we have licensed our process technologies to Cornish Lithium, a private UK company, which is establishing a pilot plant in the south-western part of England to process lithium mica minerals. Licensing provides an additional revenue stream through royalties, and we are actively exploring this avenue as well.”