Avalon’s Separation Rapids Lithium Project advances towards production

Donald Bubar, President and CEO of mineral development company Avalon Advanced Materials, discusses the latest progress made at its Separation Rapids Lithium Project in Ontario.

Avalon Advanced Materials is a Canadian-based mineral development company focused on metals and minerals for use in clean energy and new technology. The company has five critical minerals projects across Canada, working to secure the production of a range of minerals and metals, including lithium, rare earth elements, caesium, tantalum, feldspars, tin, and indium.

Currently, Avalon is continuing to make steady progress towards the start of production at its 100% owned Separation Rapids Lithium Project, near Kenora, Ontario. This project has the potential to produce high-purity lithium compounds for two distinct markets: a speciality mineral product for high-strength glass-ceramics and lithium battery materials, notably lithium hydroxide.

Securing investment

The next key step has been to secure a strategic investment partner willing to support the acquisition of an industrial site in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and contribute at least half of the funding required to establish a lithium hydroxide processing facility in Thunder Bay. It has taken a while to secure the deal with this partner (originally anticipated to be LG Energy Solution), but recently we have attracted some new interest from a major European company eager to support the industrial site acquisition and the construction of the lithium refinery.

Recent activities include starting a deep drilling programme on the Big Whopper pegmatite resource, which remains open to depth below 250m for expansion of the current 11 million tonne near surface resource. The company secured $1.95m in flow-through financing in December to fund the deep drilling programme, which is now in progress. The programme will also include drilling of the new Snowbank lithium pegmatite discovery on the northwest part of the property once the permit has been secured.

New management

Other recent news includes the hiring of a new Vice-President of Operations and COO, Rickardo Welyhorsky, P.Eng., who will take charge of getting operations started at the Separation Rapids site and the Thunder Bay refinery site. After a career in predominantly gold mining, he was very interested in getting involved in lithium battery materials supply chain development.

Offtake commitments

One of the most significant recent developments relevant to Separation Rapids is the global shortage of the rare high-purity lithium alumina silicate mineral, petalite, which is the dominant lithium mineral in the Separation Rapids Lithium Project. The global shortage arose after China took control of the traditional petalite supply sources in Zimbabwe. Petalite has always been the preferred way to introduce lithium into the batch formulation for high-strength, glass-ceramic products because it contains very little in the way of impurities that can discolour the glass. The Separation Rapids petalite pegmatite deposit is the only large petalite resource in the world that China does not control, so this creates a new opportunity for Avalon to start producing petalite concentrates to serve the global glass-ceramics market where there is a lot of demand but very few significant supply sources.

The first step towards securing firm offtake commitments is always to produce trial quantities of the petalite product for the many glass-ceramic manufacturers that have expressed interest so they can confirm that the petalite product will meet their requirements. Avalon is now in the process of acquiring a dense media separation (DMS) facility to start producing these trial quantities at the site of the Separation Rapids Lithium Project. With petalite now being in very short supply, prices have risen significantly to as much as $2,000/tonne, which will make it a very profitable business.

So, the plan is now to serve both the glass-ceramics market and the battery materials market. Since there is a second lithium mineral in the resource called lepidolite, a lithium-enriched mica that may also contain the rare element caesium, it provides an alternative feedstock for the lithium battery materials refinery. However, Avalon still plans to make the refinery a separate business that can become a buyer of lithium mineral concentrates from the many other lithium pegmatite resources that occur in northwestern Ontario.

The next steps

The next step in creating the regional refinery is securing ownership of the industrial site in Thunder Bay, where the refinery can be established. It has been a slow process due to challenges in securing the required financing, but it has also been delayed due to historic environmental issues that need to be resolved by the property vendor before closing the transaction. We are optimistic that this will now happen in late February 2023.

Please note, this article will also appear in the thirteenth edition of our quarterly publication.

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Contributor Details

Donald Bubar

President & CEO
Avalon Advanced Materials Inc.
Phone: +1 416 723 9132
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