Mining firm IGO and its joint venture (JV) partner Tianqi Lithium have produced the first batch of battery-grade lithium hydroxide at the Kwinana lithium hydroxide refinery in Western Australia.

The JV will now focus on operating the first production train (Train I) at the refinery on a continuous basis to meet the increasing demand for lithium hydroxide, which is used in electric-vehicle (EV) batteries.

Train I is to be commissioned this year and reach 24,000tpa production capacity by Q4 2022.

IGO managing director and CEO Peter Bradford said: “First production of lithium hydroxide is the first step of a journey but nevertheless represents a key milestone for the Lithium JV.

“We are therefore delighted to have achieved this first important step in the commissioning of Train I and to have done so ahead of the internal schedule developed earlier this year.”

Currently under construction, the refinery’s Train II is slated for commissioning in 2024.

Upon completion, the plant will comprise two production trains with an aggregate capacity of 48,000tpa of lithium hydroxide.

The facility receives high-quality spodumene concentrate sourced from the Greenbushe mine, to produce the battery-grade lithium hydroxide.

IGO and Tianqi respectively have 49% and 51% stakes in the JV, which owns and operates the fully automated Kwinana refinery.

Through the JV, IGO also owns a 25% stake in the Greenbushes lithium mine in Western Australia.

IGO managing director and CEO Peter Bradford said: “The strong demand being witnessed in the lithium market globally reinforces the strategic nature of Kwinana which, together with the Lithium JV’s interest in the Greenbushes mine, is rapidly evolving into a globally significant, integrated lithium operation catering to the specific needs of premium lithium-ion battery manufacturers.”

Last week, IGO said it was in preliminary talks to purchase Western Area, an Australia-based nickel miner.