South Africa-based precious and battery metals producer Sibanye-Stillwater has announced the start of construction of the Kokkola lithium hydroxide refinery in Finland.

Construction of the refinery forms part of the Keliber lithium project, for which Sibanye Stillwater has approved €588m ($616.2m) in capital expenditure.

The construction of the Kokkola refinery represents the first phase in the development of the Keliber project, which is fully owned by Finnish mining and battery chemical company Keliber.

This project is located in the Central Ostrobothnia region, which is considered ‘a significant lithium-bearing area in Europe’.

Earlier this year, Sibanye increased its interest in Keliber to 85% after purchasing a 30.29% stake in February 2022.

The Kokkola refinery is being built in the country’s Kokkola industrial park, a logistics hub from where the company intends to supply to the European battery sector.

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The refinery is expected to have an average production of 15,000tpa of battery-grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate.

Ore from four initial open cast and three underground mining operations situated across three municipalities, including Kaustinen, Kokkola and Kronoby, will be supplied to the Päiväneva concentrator.

Concentrate produced at the concentrator will then be transported 66km to the Kokkola refinery.

Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman said: “We are delighted to advance and grow our presence in the European battery metals industry through Keliber, which we expect will be the first fully integrated European lithium hydroxide producer supplying the European market and is expected to have one of the lowest carbon emission footprints in the industry.”