Galaxy’s flagship project, the Sal de Vida project (“Sal de Vida”), is recognised as a tier 1 lithium brine asset due to its large scale, high grade, low impurity brine chemistry and ease of extraction.
Sal de Vida is wholly owned by Galaxy and is located on the Salar del Hombre Muerto in the Puna region of the Central Andean Plateau in the Catamarca Province, Argentina. Catamarca is a proven mining jurisdiction and Galaxy has strong relationships with key stakeholders who are also supportive of Sal de Vida’s development.
The asset has a JORC-compliant Ore Reserve estimate of 1.1 million tonnes of retrievable lithium carbonate equivalent (“LCE”) and 4.9 million tonnes of LCE in Mineral Resources, supporting a long life, low cost operation. For further information on Sal de Vida’s Mineral Resource and Ore Reserve, click here.
Until mid-2019 Galaxy envisaged development as a single staged project by employing a conventional evaporation flowsheet to produce battery grade lithium carbonate at site and potash as a by-product.
Galaxy has since made significant breakthroughs from both a technical and development perspective which will enhance project economics as the project progresses.
Galaxy is unlocking Sal de Vida’s value through the technical and development breakthroughs achieved in 2019.
2019 PROCESS DEVELOPMENT
Galaxy undertook a comprehensive hydrometallurgical test work and evaluation program with the dual purpose of optimising the original defined evaporation flowsheet, as well as assessing new and emerging lithium extraction technologies. Under the scope of the program, five alternative process flowsheets were evaluated including two solvent extraction processes and one ion exchange process. Test work results of the alternate technologies and optimised conventional flowsheet were compared and benchmarked against the original, conventional evaporation flowsheet.
Within this test work program, Galaxy reassessed the fundamental chemistry of the process and the Salar del Hombre Muerto brine. The outcome of this program was the selection of an in-house developed evaporation flowsheet that optimises recovery, product quality, sustainability and capital and operating costs. The original evaporation flowsheet was greatly simplified with the removal of several process steps and the decoupling of onsite processing of primary lithium carbonate and purification. This will allow Sal de Vida primary lithium carbonate to be upgraded to battery grade at a separate offsite facility. Independent test work also comprehensively validated the ability of Sal de Vida brine to produce battery grade lithium carbonate.
Further optimisation of the flowsheet was enabled due to the removal of potash production. Removal allowed the brine concentration of the process plant feed to reduce to 1.2% Li (previously 2.1% Li) and in turn reduce the size of the evaporation ponds. These enhancements accelerate the evaporation cycle and increase the lithium recovery through the ponds.
PROJECT EXECUTION STRATEGY
In November 2019 Galaxy released an updated corporate strategy which outlined plans to advance Sal de Vida into execution in 2020.
Development will be split into three separate stages, two stages of evaporation and production of primary grade lithium carbonate and a third stage to refine the primary carbonate into battery grade. The advantages of the staged approach include smoothing of the capital expenditure cycle, earlier realisation of revenue, reduced development risk and simplified construction and logistical management.
Stage One can be substantially funded internally and targets first production in 2022. Galaxyis committed to ensuring Sal de Vida’s capital intensity and unit operating costs are highly competitive. Work programs are focussed on realising both objectives and arriving at a final investment decision on Stage One.
On delivery of Stage One and successful demonstration of all key operational, technical and commercial criteria, Galaxy intends to double production in Stage Two. This will entail duplication of Stage One evaporation and processing infrastructure and plant.
Stage Three will involve the construction of a downstream purification facility at a separate, offsite location to upgrade the primary grade product to battery-grade lithium carbonate.
The brine quality and flowsheet selection also preserve future optionality to produce lithium hydroxide.
Overall, the Sal de Vida project has been greatly enhanced through the process technology breakthrough and through the adoption of a staged project execution strategy.
Fewer processing steps
Reduced capital intensity, higher recovery and lower technical risk
Lower final evaporation grade
Faster evaporation cycle, greatly reduced pond size, reduction of brine volume treated, lower losses of lithium to leakage and entrainment
Lower water, energy and reagent demand
Decoupling of evaporation and purification steps
Less technical complexity at high elevation, reduced capital intensity for Stage One, earlier realisation of revenue
Staged project delivery
PROJECT EXECUTION STRATEGY
The objective of the pilot ponds and plant is to refine key operating assumption and facilitate product qualification of primary lithium carbonate with prospective offtakers. Pilot scale purification of generated samples to battery grade will also be completed at an offsite laboratory.
15 hectares of pilot evaporation ponds have been completed and have been filled with brine. Commissioning of the pilot plant will allow first production of primary lithium carbonate thereafter.
In June 2019, Guillermo Calo was appointed as General Manager – Argentina. Mr. Calo has extensive corporate management experience in the minerals industry in Argentina and more broadly in South America, with previous roles as the President of Barrick subsidiaries in Argentina and Executive Director of Barrick Argentina. Senior level appointments were made throughout 2019 and Galaxy has established a core management team proven in project execution.
Galaxy is committed to regularly engaging with community stakeholders to provide positive, lasting benefits through employment opportunities, education and health initiatives. The Company aims to maximise local employment and procurement of local goods and services. Currently 100% of the workforce is Argentinian, with 70% of the workforce from Catamarca.
During the year Galaxy agreed with the Government of Catamarca to undertake a two-year program to support infrastructure projects for surrounding communities. The Company has committed to the expansion of two regional schools and the establishment of a first aid facility.
In May 2019 Galaxy relocated its Argentinian office to Catamarca and later in the same year opened a new community relations office in Antofagasta de la Sierra to facilitate communications with local stakeholders. Galaxy staff led a variety of social programs that were focused on education, upskilling local populations and providing greater access to healthcare.