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Esmeralda mine could become largest lithium producer in U.S.

Texas-based Fluor Corporation will conduct a feasibility study for the Rhyolite Ridge Lithium-Boron Project, a prospective mine in Esmeralda County, amid the growing demand for these metals driven by electric vehicles and energy storages for wind and solar plants.

Ioneer Ltd, a Sydney, Australia-based emerging supplier of lithium and boron who owns the Rhyolite Ridge Lithium Project, hired Fluor to conduct a feasibility study to determine whether the mineral resource can be mined economically and assess the potential impacts of the project, according to the press release.

“Ioneer became interested in the Rhyolite Ridge Lithium-Boron Project in 2016 when the company recognized that Rhyolite Ridge was different to other sedimentary lithium deposits. The presence of boron in the same rocks as the lithium provides a second revenue stream as well as a very economic processing route to extract the lithium,” said Roger Howe, corporate and investor relations specialist at Ioneer.

Ioneer acquired an option over Rhyolite Ridge in June 2016 from a small syndicate of local Nevada prospectors, Howe said. The deal was structured as a series of payments in cash and shares.

In October 2018, Ioneer completed the Preliminary Feasibility Study that showed that Rhyolite Ridge could become a long-life, low-cost and highly-profitable mine of global significance, according to the video posted on Ioneer’s website.

The Definitive Feasibility Study commenced in December 2018 and is expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2019.

“Using the Preliminary Feasibility Study as a starting point, the Definitive Feasibility Study will provide further confidence in the project by undertaking more detailed studies on every aspect of the proposed development, such as design and engineering of the processing plant and site layout. The DFS will determine the project size as well as the potential to phase aspects of project development,” Howe said.

Lithium is a main component in smartphones, tablets and laptops. The lightweight material is also considered the key to reducing the world’s reliance on fossil fuels as it is used to produce lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and energy storages for large-scale solar and wind plants.

Rhyolite Ridge already has over 60 existing drill holes, according to Ioneer’s data. The deposit is estimated to contain the equivalent of 4.1 million tonnes of lithium carbonate and 10.9 million tonnes of boric acid, the company said.

The outlook for lithium is “very strong” due to the rapidly increasing use of lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles and energy storages, Howe said. The rapid demand growth will require global lithium supply to roughly triple by 2025, he added.

The demand for boron meanwhile is growing at about 5 percent per year due to its many applications integral to modern life, Howe said.

“Rhyolite Ridge will become a globally significant producer of both lithium and boron as well as the largest lithium producer in the United States,” Howe said.

Rhyolite Ridge is located about 25 miles west of Albemarle Corporation’s lithium mine in Clayton Valley near Silver Peak, the only operating lithium mine in the U.S.

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