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Nipigon lithium digger lines up European customers

Rock Tech Lithium expects to start Georgia Lake mine construction by mid-2023

A Nipigon-area lithium mine builder has been signing a flurry of tentative off-take agreements this spring and summer to supply the European electric vehicle industry with battery-grade material.

This month, Vancouver-based Rock Tech Lithium signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with global commodities trader thyssenkrupp Materials Trading and along with “framework agreement” with an undisclosed German car maker to provide lithium concentrate that will be mined in northwestern Ontario and refined in Germany.

Rock Tech is the holder of the Georgia Lake Lithium Project, located 17 kilometres south of the town of Beardmore and 145 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.

The company has strong connections to the German and Eastern European markets.

Two years ago, Rock Tech generated some buzz in the northwest by entering into a partnership with Avalon Advanced Materials to jointly build a refinery plant in Thunder Bay. But Rock Tech later backed out of the arrangement, electing to construct its own lithium hydroxide plant in Germany, the first of its kind in Europe.

The company deems the European electric vehicle market to be more advanced than North America's.

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The thyssenkrupp agreement amounts to an arrangement to create a secure supply chain for Germany in sourcing and processing lithium for the continent’s auto industry and “growing electromobility demands.”

In June, Rock Tech inked a non-binding term sheet with Swiss commodities trader Transamine SA to start discussions for create another supply chain agreement.

This summer, Rock Tech continues drilling at Georgia Lake to define the resource boundaries of five spodumene pegmatite deposits on its 1,042-hectare property. Spodumene is the most widely used lithium because of its high lithium content in the rock.

The drill results will be folded into a prefeasibility study to support the company’s case to develop a mine. Rock Tech is also working on the mine permitting.

The company's investor information places the start of mine construction at Georgia Lake as the second quarter of 2023. The aim is to start commercial production by late 2023 or early 2024.

A lithium spodumene concentrate would be produced at the site, then transported to Thunder Bay for shipment overseas to a proposed refinery site in Guben, Germany. There it will be processed into lithium hydroxide, a key ingredient needed to manufacture lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.

This “converter” plant is slated to be ready for production in late 2024. But Rock Tech is planning more plants, all in Europe. 

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After a signing a MOU with the Romanian government in March, Rock Tech Chairman Dirk Harbecke said in a news release that their plans are build and operate five converter plants in Romania and across Eastern Europe by 2029.

"With thyssenkrupp Materials Trading we have found a global logistics and trading partner that gives us further security in the supply of spodumene," said Rock Tech CEO Markus Brügmann in a statement.

"This is expected to give us a broader base for our input stream, which would take us a big step forward on the road to success."

The Georgia Lake Project, located five kilometres off Highway 11, has measured and indicated resources of 6.6 million tonnes, grading 1.16 per cent lithium oxide, and an inferred resource of 6.7 million tonnes, grading 1.16 per cent. The company claims the property has both open pit and underground mining potential.

Lithium was discovered in the area in 1955. Rock Tech Lithium has been exploring there since 2016.