Lithium Americas Corp.
TSX : LAC

Lithium Americas Corp.

April 18, 2011 07:00 ET

Lithium Americas Announces Positive Preliminary Economic Assessment for Its Cauchari Lithium Project

Developing One of the World's Largest and Lowest Cost Lithium Operations

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - April 18, 2011) - Lithium Americas Corp. (TSX:LAC) ("Lithium Americas" or the "Company"), is pleased to announce the results of a National Instrument 43-101 compliant Preliminary Economic Assessment ("PEA") for its Cauchari lithium brine project in Argentina. The PEA was prepared by the independent engineering firm, ARA WorleyParsons ("ARAWP"). ARAWP has a significant amount of experience in lithium brine processing, having designed and participated in building the world's largest and lowest cost lithium brine processing facility in Chile. The PEA provides for a 40,000 tonne per annum ("TPA") lithium carbonate ("LCE") production facility built in two phases, with construction of the first 20,000 TPA phase expected to begin in 2012, and construction of the second phase expected to begin in 2016. Potash and borax by-products have not been included in this economic assessment, and could potentially add further value to the project. All dollar amounts are in US$.

PRELIMINARY ECONOMIC ASSESSMENT HIGHLIGHTS – BASE CASE
Pre-Tax Net Present Value ("NPV") @ 8% Discount Rate$983 million
Pre-Tax Internal Rate of Return ("IRR")30%
Cash Operating Costs (per tonne of LCE)$1,434
Initial Capital (for 20,000 TPA of LCE)$217 million
Total Capital (for 40,000 TPA of LCE)$399 million
Stage 1 Revenue Generation Commences (20,000 TPA of LCE)Year 2014
Stage 2 Revenue Generation Commences (40,000 TPA of LCE)Year 2018

"The results of this independent report highlight that our lithium project has the potential to become one of the lowest cost lithium operations in the world," stated Waldo Perez, President and CEO of Lithium Americas. "Having already defined the world's third largest lithium brine resource, we are now looking forward to developing a long-life, low-cost operation, in an industry with a significant expected increase in demand over the foreseeable future."

Base Case Economic Analysis and Assumptions

The PEA calculates a base case pre-tax NPV of $983 million, assuming an 8% discount rate, and an after-tax NPV of $715 million. The base case pre-tax IRR is 30% and after-tax IRR is 26%. Production of LCE is assumed to be 40,000 TPA, achieved via an evaporation pond system and processing plant built in two phases, with each phase capable of producing 20,000 TPA. The first phase is expected to begin generating revenue from LCE production in 2014, while the second phase is expected to begin generating revenue in 2018. The capital costs associated with the first phase are estimated to be $217 million, while the capital costs associated with the second phase are estimated to be $181 million. The table below summarizes the total initial capital costs required for both phases:

Summary of Initial Capital Costs
($'s in Millions)
Phase 1Phase 2Total
Brine Production Wells6.86.112.9
Evaporation and Concentration Ponds93.488.7182.1
Lithium Carbonate Plant66.649.7116.2
Infrastructure17.97.525.4
Sub Total184.7152.0336.7
Contingency32.529.461.9
Total Initial Capital Costs217.2181.4398.6

The PEA estimates that 80 brine production wells are required in order to produce 40,000 TPA of LCE. Of these 80 wells, 68 are required for production, while 12 are used as stand-by units.

The base case assumes that the long term price of LCE is $5,500 per tonne based on an independent market study, and that the cash operating costs for producing LCE are $1,434 per tonne (average value for both phases). The table below summarizes the total operating costs associated with 40,000 TPA of LCE production:

Summary of Operating Costs($'s in Millions)
- Pond Chemicals11.1
- Lithium Plant Chemicals20.2
- SX Boron Plant Reagents2.2
- Salt Removal and Transport5.2
- Energy5.7
- Transportation2.3
- Maintenance5.8
- Manpower2.8
- Catering and Camp Services0.5
Total Direct Costs55.8
Indirect Costs1.5
Total Operating Costs57.4

The base case assumes only the production of LCE, even though potash and boric acid are expected to be by-products of the lithium brine production process. Several factors contribute to the projected low operating cost including:

  • Existing Infrastructure: The Cauchari property is located on a paved highway which connects Argentina to the Chilean port of Antofagasta, approximately 580 kilometres from the site.

  • Access to Fresh Water: Fresh water is required for industrial use and is available on site.

  • Low Cost Energy: Power in the plant can be produced from natural gas accessed from a pipeline located 50 km north of the site.

  • Brine Chemistry: The low magnesium content of the brine reduces the cost requirements associated with chemicals used in the production process.

BASE CASE SENSITIVITY ANALYSIS
Discount RateNPV Millions
(Pre-Tax)
NPV Millions
(After-Tax)
IRR
(Pre-Tax)
IRR
(After-Tax)
6%$1,331$99030.0%26.0%
8%$983$71530.0%26.0%
10%$730$51830.0%26.0%

Proposed Mining Operations and Processing

The process begins with the extraction of brine through production wells. From the wells, the brine is pumped into large solar evaporation ponds. The evaporation process in the solar ponds starts with a pre-concentration stage where approximately 90% of the sodium chloride from the brine crystallizes out. This pre-concentration stage has an evaporation period of 160 to 180 days, during which time the volume of brine is reduced by 80 – 90%.

The pre-concentrated brine is then subjected to chemical treatment with calcium solutions (slaked lime and calcium chloride) in order to remove most of the magnesium and residual sulphate present.

In order to promote the production of lithium carbonate at the lowest possible cost, the solar evaporation process will be designed so that the lithium concentration in the brine reaches values in the range of 4%. This step of the evaporation process is carried out in another set of smaller ponds called lithium ponds. In addition to the increase in lithium concentration in these smaller ponds, the crystalline precipitation of salts containing potassium chloride, sulphates and borates occurs.

The processing plant for producing lithium carbonate includes the final purification of the concentrated lithium brine feeding the LCE precipitation stage. For this purpose, the conventional process used by lithium carbonate plants in operation has been taken as a reference, which includes the following:

  • Elimination of the boron content by solvent extraction.

  • Treatment of the boron-free brine with a mixture of slaked lime and soda ash, to remove low residual levels of magnesium.

The purified brine, containing 1% lithium dissolved as lithium chloride, a concentration that is reached by dilution with soda ash solution and/or recycled mother liquor from the plant, is transferred to three reactors in series, where lithium carbonate is precipitated by the addition of sodium carbonate solution (at 26 wt.%). The slurry containing the precipitated product is separated from the mother liquor by filtration and is washed with soft water. Finally, the product is dried, classified and packed.

Significant Mineral Resource Estimate

Lithium Americas' Cauchari project is the third largest known lithium brine resource in the world. Details of the in-situ resource estimate can be found in the NI 43-101 report "Measured, Indicated and Inferred Resource Estimation of Lithium and Potassium at the Cauchari and Olaroz Salars, Jujuy Province, Argentina". The report was filed on SEDAR on December 6th, 2010. A summary of the resource estimate is highlighted in the table below. The Company has used a conservative cut-off grade of 500 mg/L in keeping with best practices.

Lithium Resource Summary (in-situ) (≥ 500 mg/L Lithium Cut-Off Grade)
Mass Cumulated (in tonnes)Brine
Volume (m
3)
Average Lithium
Concentration (mg/L)
Lithium
Metal
Lithium Carbonate
Measured656546,3002,884,0008.09 x 108
Indicated637458,3002,420,0007.20 x 108
TOTAL
(Measured + Indicated)
1,004,6005,304,000
Inferred603512,8002,708,0008.50 x 108

Given the size of the resource estimate, the project is expected to have an extremely long mine life. As highlighted in the table below, a 40 year mine life producing at 40,000 TPA of LCE, would result in only approximately 50% of the measured and indicated resource being depleted.

Cumulative Production vs. Lithium Resources
Assuming 40 Year Mine Life and Production of 40,000 Tonnes per Year
Mass Cumulated (in tonnes)Brine Volume
(MM m
3)
Lithium
Metal
Lithium Carbonate
Extracted500,5902,664,884976
Measured546,3002,884,000809
Indicated458,3002,420,000720
TOTAL
(Measured + Indicated)
1,004,6005,304,000
Extracted / TOTAL50%50%

Conclusions and Next Steps

The PEA concludes that the Cauchari lithium project has favourable economic potential. It identifies that the project's most important positive feature is its low operating cost of $1,434 per tonne. This low operating cost compares very favourably to existing lithium carbonate producers, and suggests that Lithium Americas has the potential to become one of the lowest cost lithium operations in the world.

Next steps for the project include:

  • Construction of a lithium carbonate pilot production facility for sample certification.

  • Completion of the work to upgrade the current in-situ resource into extractable reserves.

  • Continuation of the process studies in order to incorporate potash, boric acid and other potential by-products in an economic assessment.

  • Completion of the Definitive Feasibility Study.

Report Filing

The complete PEA will be filed on SEDAR (http://www.sedar.com) and the Company's website (http://www.lithiumamericas.com) within 45 days.

Qualified Person

Roger Kelley, Chemical Engineer registered as a Fellow with the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy is the independent qualified person signing the report for ARA WorleyParsons and has reviewed and approved this press release.

About the Company

Lithium Americas is developing one of the world's largest and lowest cost lithium operations. The Company's principal property comprises a significant portion of two adjacent Argentinean salt lakes, Cauchari and Olaroz, covering 64,572 hectares. To the best knowledge of Lithium Americas, the Company's principal property hosts the 3rd largest lithium brine resource in the world. Mitsubishi Corporation and Magna International are shareholders in the Company, in addition to both companies having off-take arrangements with Lithium Americas. Additional information concerning the Company's principal property and its in situ resource can be obtained from its NI 43-101 technical report dated Monday December 6th, 2010 and filed on SEDAR.

Cautionary Note and Forward-looking statements

The PEA was prepared to broadly quantify the Cauchari project's capital and operating cost parameters and to provide guidance on the type and scale of future project engineering and development work that will be needed to ultimately define the project's likelihood of a positive feasibility determination and optimal production rate. It was not prepared to be used as a valuation of the project nor should it be considered to be a final feasibility study on which a commercial production decision could be made as mineral resources that are not mineral reserves do not have demonstrated economic viability. The capital and operating cost estimates which were used have been developed only to an approximate order of magnitude based on generally understood capital cost to production level relationships, and although they are based on engineering studies, these are preliminary so the ultimate costs may vary widely from the amounts set out in the PEA. This could materially adversely impact the projected economics of the project. As is normal at this stage of a project, data in some areas was incomplete and estimates were developed based solely on the expertise of the Company's employees and consultants. At this level of engineering, the criteria, methods and estimates are preliminary and result in a high level of subjective judgment being employed. There can be no assurance that the potential results contained in the PEA will be realized.

This press release contains forward looking statements, which can be identified by the use of statements that includewords such as "developing", "estimate", "could", "potential", "believe", "expect", "anticipate", "intend", "plan", "likely", "will" or other similarwords or phrases. Forward-looking statements express, as at the date of this press release, the Company's plans, estimates, forecasts, projections, expectations, or beliefs as to future events or results. Forward-looking statements are based on certain assumptions, including the key assumptions and parameters on which such estimates are based, involve risks and uncertainties and there can be no assurance that such statements will prove to be accurate. Therefore, actual results and future events could differ materially from those anticipated in such statements. Factors that could cause results or events to differ materially from current expectations expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements, include, but are not limited to, possible variations in mineral resources, grade or recovery rates, lithium prices, operating or capital costs; availability of sufficient financing to fund planned or further required work in a timely manner and on acceptable terms; changes in project parameters as plans continue to be refined; failure of equipment or processes to operate as anticipated or other unanticipated difficulties or interruptions; political, community relations, regulatory, environmental and other risks of the mining industry and other risks more fully described in the Company's prospectus dated May 6, 2010 and its most recent management's discussion and analysis available on SEDAR. Although the Company has attempted to identify important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in forward looking statements, there may be other factors that cause results to be materially different from those planned, estimated, forecasted, projected or expected. The Company does not intend, and does not assume any obligations, to update forward-lookingstatements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, unless otherwise required by applicable securities laws. Readers should not place undue reliance on forward looking statements.

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