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Neo Lithium’s Tres Quebradas (3Q) project is a newly discovered lithium salar and brine reservoir complex in Catamarca Province, the biggest lithium producer in Argentina.
The project is found to be a unique high-grade lithium brine reservoir located in the famous Lithium Triangle, which corners with Chile, Argentina and Bolivia, and holds many of the world’s biggest brine lithium mines and projects, in the Puna Plateau.
The 3Q project received approval from Catamarca’s mining and environmental authorities for its environmental report and work programme in October 2016, allowing the company to quickly move forward to the exploration phase.
As part of the exploration phase, the company will construct and operate pilot evaporation ponds, laboratories, camps, drill programme and other exploration and development works of the project. Drilling will commence later in the year, once the required infrastructure is set.
The company plans to spend $17.5m for the exploration and development, which will lead to the pre-economic assessment (PEA) study of the project, to be completed during the first half of the 2018.
Tres Quebradas (3Q) project location
Spread across an area of approximately 35,000ha, the 3Q project comprises a salar and a 160km² brine reservoir complex, which includes three large areas of open brine/brine lakes containing hyper saline high-density brine. The project extends for 40km in a valley along the bottom of the Salar complex.
The northern part of the valley has the Laguna Tres Quebradas lake, the central part holds Laguna Verde lake and the southern portion features Laguna Negra lake.
Other solid surfaces within the complex include Tres Quebradas Salar in the northern area lying between the Laguna Tres Quebradas lake and Laguna Verde lake, Laguna Negra Salar lake towards the south between Laguna Verde lake and Laguna Negra lake, and Salar Escondido, a smaller isolated area located 2km east of Laguna Verde lake.
Geology and mineralisation
The 3Q project is located in the Lithium Traingle, which comprises high-altitude salt lakes and salt flats, many of which contain high levels of lithium concentrations. Located in the southern part of the triangle, the project coincides with the Pedernales and Maricunga salars in Chile and hence is estimated to contain lithium brine accumulations.
The northern part of the 3Q project encompasses a 14km-long and 2.8km-wide high-grade target. As per the preliminary brine sampling, the brine reservoir contains a relatively homogeneous distribution of high-grade lithium, with an average lithium concentration of 895mg/l and potassium of 7,694mg/l, while the salar holds an average shallow brine lithium concentration of 784mg/l and potassium of 6,796mg/l.
The mineral resources at the reservoir and the salar are estimated to be higher than current producing mines in the Triangle. The reservoir is very closely connected to larger salars with high-grade lithium brine at surface.
The northern target of the project is expected to contain remarkably low levels of critical impurities such as sulphate and magnesium, compared to any other lithium project in the world.
Processing at Tres Quebradas project
The brine process studies conducted using the samples from the 3Q project suggest that the project holds brine with unique chemical properties that requires standard, low-cost solar evaporation technology for lithium carbonate production.
Solar evaporation involves pumping the brine solution into the solar evaporation ponds, where the highly soluble lithium ions will be concentrated to a very high level through the evaporation of water and precipitation of less-soluble minerals.
The brine will be further processed to remove other moderately soluble elements. Lithium will be precipitated to form lithium carbonate by adding soda ash and by heating the brine over 70°C.
The process studies also indicate that the brine from the 3Q project can be concentrated up to 2.6% lithium without the addition of reagents and up to 4.6% lithium with minimal cleaning. They also show that it will take eight months for the brine to evaporate in ponds and approximately 25t of lithium carbonate can be recovered from each hectare of pond.
Tres Quebrads lithium project infrastructure
The project currently features minimal infrastructure including the RN60 national highway, through which the project can be accessed.
Electricity will be supplied through a combination of solar, wind and diesel generation sources. Water sources will be explored in the adjacent large alluvial fans. Mining personnel will be sourced from the nearby Fiambala town.
The storing equipment for tailings and waste material will be minimal and will be arranged as part of the infrastructure development at the site.
Neo Lithium has awarded road, camp and pilot pond construction contracts as well as geophysics and drilling contracts following the recent approval from the environmental and mining authorities.
Works on the 60km road upgrade from the highway for a weather-proof road have already started. A camp facility for 40 personnel, which was pre-built off-site, will be transported to the site. Also installed at the site will be a weather station and a full-scale laboratory.
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