NextSource Materials has started the commissioning of its Molo graphite mine in Toliara, southern Madagascar, marking a step towards achieving critical minerals producer status.

The firm is installing the solar and battery facility for the hybrid power plant, which is said to be central to the phase one development at the Molo mine.

The hybrid power plant will involve a thermal generation facility, a 2.6MW solar plant and a 1MWh battery energy storage system facility.

Being developed in phases, the Molo mine is expected to have an initial production capacity of around 17,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) of flake graphite concentrate.

The second phase will increase the Molo mine’s annual graphite production to 150,000t.

Last month, NextSource announced its global battery anode facility (BAF) expansion plan, which includes the construction of several BAFs for the production of commercial-scale graphite anode material for lithium-ion batteries utilised in EV applications.

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It also released results for its first BAF in Mauritius (BAF1), located close to the Molo mine, which will be involved in the production of commercial volumes of coated, spherical and purified graphite (CSPG) mainly for Japanese and South Korean customers.

Front-end engineering and design, along with environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) permitting are currently ongoing, with the firm in talks with strategic offtake partners and debt and equity financiers who are willing to fund the construction of BAF1.

The firm expects production from BAF1 to start by the second quarter of next year, providing financing and ESIA requirements are met.

NextSource Materials president and CEO Craig Scherba said: “Commissioning of the Molo Graphite Mine is a testament to the hard work and perseverance of our employees and contractors who have brought this project from design through to implementation in the midst of a global pandemic and shifting geopolitical landscape.

“That hard work has placed the company in an enviable position as it transitions into a global graphite producer at a time when graphite consumption is increasing dramatically due to the explosive growth in demand for lithium-ion batteries.

“NextSource is taking advantage of this tremendous market opportunity by creating a substantive niche for itself within the global lithium-ion battery supply chain through the commissioning of its first graphite mine and planned construction of its first battery anode facility.”

Phase one of the Molo mine involves a greenfield open pit mine, a processing plant, and all supporting infrastructure, including water, fuel, power, tailings (co-disposed), buildings and permanent accommodation.