South Africa-based gold miner Sibanye-Stillwater has launched its Keliber lithium refinery at Kokkola Industrial Park (KIP) in Ykspihlaja, Finland.

A foundation stone was laid to mark the launch of the project. Earthworks on the lithium refinery began in March 2023.

The refinery is expected to supply the first integrated, regionally produced lithium into the European green energy ecosystem.

Entailing a €588m investment, the refinery is set to supply green primary lithium to the growing battery market in Europe.

Of the total investment, approximately €231m is to be invested this year.

The required funding for this year is in place and the remaining project capital is expected to be procured through debt.

Sibanye-Stillwater owns a 79% stake in the Keliber lithium refinery project while state-owned mining development company Finnish Minerals Group owns 20%.

Last month, Finnish Minerals Group invested €53.95m in the project and increased its stake from 14% to 20%.

Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman said: “It is a central part of Sibanye-Stillwater’s business ethos to create superior shared value for all our stakeholders. In addition to delivering critical green metals into the European ecosystem, the Keliber lithium project is expected to provide employment for over 300 people over its current expected life of 16 years.

“The project will also create new opportunities for local suppliers of goods and services, and is acknowledged as a significant contributor to the growth of the local economy in future.”

Keliber owns several mineral deposits in Central Ostrobothnia, Finland. The reserves at the location amount to 12.7 million tonnes.

The refinery secured a final environmental permit last August. It is expected to begin lithium hydroxide production in 2025.