Mining major Rio Tinto has commenced production of spodumene concentrate at a demonstration plant in its Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium (RTIT) Quebec Operations complex, Canada.

The spodumene concentrate is a mineral used in the production of lithium for batteries.

Commissioned in June, the plant will showcase a new spodumene concentration process that provides lithium oxide (Li₂0) grades and recoveries above the specified industry average.

The large-scale production process will evade the use of chemical products and generate dry inert residues, thus benefitting the environment.

Developed by researchers at Rio Tinto’s Critical Minerals and Technology Centre, the process was trialled on spodumene ore samples brought from several countries.

The demonstration plant was commissioned following a laboratory trial of the new process.

In July this year, the plant produced its first tonne of spodumene concentrate.

In its next phase, the plant will assess ore from local suppliers, including Sayona, which is a lithium producer that is handling projects in Québec and Western Australia.

RTIT managing director Stéphane Leblanc said: “Rio Tinto is exploring new, sustainable ways to extract battery materials for the energy transition.

“We are seeing strong interest in the market for a North American supply of spodumene concentrate to support the production of lithium batteries.

“Our demonstration plant will allow us to further validate the innovative spodumene concentration process developed at our Critical Minerals and Technology Centre as we consider moving to commercial scale production.”

In March 2022, Lion Copper and Gold reached an earn-in deal with Rio Tinto America for a stake in copper assets in Mason Valley, Nevada.