ADELLA HARDING Mines Correspondent
Construction on the large Rhyolite Ridge lithium project in Esmeralda County could begin in the second half of next year if the United States Bureau of Land Management makes its decision by then, the president said. executive of pioneer Ltd. James Calaway, who is optimistic about the pioneer joint venture deal with Sibyanye-Stillwater Ltd.
The joint venture is dependent on getting the permits for Rhyolite Ridge, but the companies have a binding agreement so that “when we get the permits, the money starts flowing,” Calaway said. “Sibyane has some very serious people with great work experience, and they put our project through extensive due diligence.”
BLM’s clearance, however, is on hold until the US Fish and Wildlife Service “has made a final decision on listing Tiehm’s buckwheat for protection under the Endangered Species Act,” he said. said Jess Harvey, BLM’s Battle Mountain Public Affairs Specialist. Piece.
Fish and Wildlife published the proposed regulation listing the plant in the Federal Register on Oct. 7, opening a 60-day comment period. The agency then has up to a year to make a decision.
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The Center for Biological Diversity has been a major opponent of Rhyolite Ridge, and Nevada director Patrick Donnelly said the USFW cannot use economic reasons to “choose between lithium or a wildflower.”
He said the buckwheat location is the only place the plant will grow, and “we’re very clear on our position and will continue to take it to court,” if the BLM allows the project. “This mine is not going to advance anytime soon.”
South African company Sibanye-Stillwater plans to invest $ 490 million in the Rhyolite Ridge lithium-boron project. The deal also gives Sibanye-Stillwater an 18-month option to acquire a 50% interest in the North Basin exploration asset near Rhyolite Ridge for an additional $ 50 million.
The operator of the project will be ioneer, based in Australia.
Calaway said the total cost of the project is estimated at $ 800 million, including a “full-fledged processing plant” that is expected to produce 175,000 tonnes of boric acid and 22,000 tonnes of lithium per day. And the project will involve 600 workers during construction and 250 to 300 jobs for regular operations.
“It will transform Esmeralda County,” he said in a telephone interview. “It’s two years of construction and six months of commissioning.
The largest town near Rhyolite Ridge is Tonopah.
Calaway said Rhyolite Ridge will mine lithium and boron ore, treating the ore with 10% sulfuric acid and 90% water, creating lithium and boric acid products. The lithium in the clay at the site will be stored for potential production later if the production becomes economically viable.
The boric acid product will be a white powder used in home insulation, cell phone covers, glass stoves, televisions and more.
“There are 130 uses for the material,” Calaway said.
Lithium will be produced from the same process, with nine tonnes of boric acid for one tonne of lithium. Calaway said lithium will be produced at an overall sustainable cost of $ 2,500 per tonne due to the credit offset by boric acid.
He said the treatment would be a “very high-tech operation”.
There will be a “relatively small pit” for mining the deposit, Calaway also said, noting that there will be no tailings dam and the project already has state water permits.
His optimism about Rhyolite Ridge covers the company’s plans to grow Tiehm’s buckwheat on 10 acres of the project site after the USFW’s decision to nominate the endangered wildflower listing.
He said that Pioneer expects the agency to list Tiehm’s buckwheat on the edge of the project site’s roughly 2,000 acres, which he said would make the status of the plant clear to all.
“We actually supported him. It’s best to declare it endangered, ”said Calaway, who lives in Texas. “We had to do a lot of work to develop the plan that allows us to save the mine without affecting the factories, and we intend to move forward on that basis.”
Pioneer CEO Barnard Rowe said in an Oct. 5 reaction to the Fish and Wildlife decision that Pioneer “has invested considerable funds to undertake the most comprehensive studies and efforts on buckwheat management strategies. of Tiehm to date to ensure that the species is not only protected but that its populations increase in the years to come.
Calaway said that Pioneer plans to increase the size of buckwheat habitat from 50 to 100 acres “within half a mile of the plant’s current population” and protect the species from further attack. of animals. Rodent attacks on Tiehm’s buckwheat destroyed plants last year.
“Almost half of them have been destroyed by drought and by animals,” he said, adding that in the five years that ioneer has worked on the project, we “have never , never hurt the plants. There was nothing suspicious about it. There was a bumper crop of rodents.
An investigation showed the animals were to blame, according to Calaway.
Donnelly said he disagreed with Innovator’s expectation that the wildflower could be established near the current grow site, and “attempts to propagate the plants have failed. They’re all dead, so Ioneer doesn’t have a plan. Their plan is crazy and does not reflect the consensus of the scientific community.
He said the Center for Biological Diversity doesn’t oppose lithium mining and lithium is “everywhere” in Nevada, but ioneer wants the Rhyolite Ridge site because boron makes it cheaper to mine.
“There is no compromise. They can’t hurt buckwheat, ”Donnelly said in a phone interview.
Calaway said the only issue raised so far about Rhyolite Ridge was with Tiehm’s 10 acres of buckwheat, which the BLM already classifies as a sensitive species, and “we’re ready to shovel.” The last little tweaks will be to avoid Tiehm Buckwheat, so we’re ready to go to public comment.
He said that Rhyolite Ridge is about climate change, and “we’re not building a coal mine or a gold mine. It is a very important asset, with a strong environmental benefit. We plan to be excellent stewards.
The lithium produced at Rhyolite Ridge would be used for the batteries that power electric cars, which in turn would reduce carbon emissions.
“We better get started now and build these facilities now,” because electric cars are going to be a big part of this country’s future, but without the production of lithium in the United States, the production of batteries will depend on foreign sources, Calaway said. “I think people are realizing the need. “
He said he didn’t understand why opponents of the Rhyolite Ridge lithium project seemed to think the project could be moved when the deposits are the only such deposits – at least found so far.
“It is the only material like this on Earth,” he said, adding that the discovery was due to a “white hill sticking out of the ground.”
Rowe is credited with realizing the potential of the site when he visited the deposit in 2016. He was given a 12 month option on the project to give the company time to assess the deposit, later named Rhyolite Ridge , according to the company’s website.
Along with the joint venture deal, the companies reached an agreement for the strategic placement of $ 70 million of ionic shares with Sibanye-Stillwater, and the deal was closed on October 28, after approval by shareholders of both companies on October 21.
Sibanye-Stillwater said the company “is delighted to join the ioneer share register as a supporting strategic partner and looks forward to working with ioneer as joint venture partners to develop the Rhyolite Ridge Lithium Boron project into a full operation. leading lithium in the United States ”.
Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman said when announcing the joint venture in September that the deal with ioneer was the second lithium deal and the third battery metals deal for the company. The company owns the Keliber lithium site in Finland and the Sandouville nickel site in France. ??