Under the contract, DuPont (NYSE:DD) will supply its specialised MECS® sulphuric acid technology, enabling the plant to limit releases and rank among the world’s lowest emission facilities of its kind.
Once in operation, the plant will produce sulphuric acid for the leach process together with zero-carbon steam and electricity that will drive the entire operation.
“Critical strategic step” for US battery production
Commenting on the contract, ioneer managing director Bernard Rowe said: “Development of the Rhyolite Ridge lithium-boron project is a critical strategic step to enable US production of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles (EV) and renewable energy storage.
“ioneer’s core commitment is to produce essential materials in an environmentally and socially responsible and sustainable manner through lowered emissions, reduced water usage and a minimal surface footprint.
“We are delighted to welcome MECS-DuPont to our team. It is a world leader in clean technology and emissions control and will work alongside ioneer to deliver this tier-one project in the US.”
Powering Rhyolite Ridge
Essentially, the proposed Rhyolite Ridge plant will convert sulphur into commercial-grade sulphuric acid, used to leach lithium and boron from the crushed rock.
From there, the heat released in the process will be recovered to produce steam for electricity.
Initially, the sulphuric acid plant will generate 35 megawatts of electricity, which is sufficient to power the entire Rhyolite Ridge operation and means ioneer will not draw electricity from the grid.
This means Rhyolite Ridge will be an energy-independent operation, using primarily co-generated, zero-carbon power.
The heat generated will also be used for evaporation and crystallisation processes required to produce lithium carbonate and boric acid.
Because it will apply DuPont’s advanced technologies, the plant will meet Nevada's stringent NV Class II air quality standards and water pollution control metrics.
In order for the Rhyolite Ridge project to enter construction, ioneer had to secure a Class II Air Quality Permit from a regulatory office in Nevada, meaning the plant’s capability was an essential part of its approval bid.
The ASX-lister received the permit from the State of Nevada Division of Environmental Protection Bureau of Air Pollution Control in June 2021.
In addition to the sulphuric acid technology, DuPont will supply its latest generation MECS® Super GEAR™ catalyst and other proprietary equipment.
However, for the contract to go through, the ioneer board of directors must reach a final investment decision.
Once operational, Rhyolite Ridge is expected to produce 20,600 tonnes per annum of lithium carbonate, converting in year four to 22,000 tonnes per annum of battery-grade lithium hydroxide and 174,400 tonnes per annum of boric acid.
The project is expected to begin production in the second half of 2024, pending the final federal approval for Rhyolite’s plan of operation.
DuPont Clean Technologies
DuPont Clean Technologies is described as bringing more than 90 years of expertise in best-in-class sulphuric acid plant engineering, processes, energy recovery and environmental technologies.
It also provides a range of specialty products and services for numerous other industries.
The company has designed more than 1,000 customized plants worldwide to enable producers to operate with low capital and operating costs.
The solutions are tailored to suit their feedstock, location, local environmental regulations, energy requirements and industry.
Speaking to the contract win, DuPont global business leader Eli Ben-Shoshan said: “We have worked in close partnership with ioneer and SNC-Lavalin (TSX:SNC) to be able to guarantee the precise performance and emissions control ioneer needs for its Rhyolite Ridge project to meet stringent environmental standards and production objectives.
“We are excited to be part of a project that helps ioneer cleanly produce lithium essential to the advancement of electric energy markets and to be able to support it with our many decades of expertise in sulphuric acid plant technology.”