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Thiel-Backed Miner Partners With Bilfinger on Europe’s First Lithium Refinery

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Rock Tech Lithium Inc. and Bilfinger SE have agreed to cooperate on building Europe’s first lithium refinery in a push to supply the region’s shift toward battery-powered cars.

The Canadian miner and the German industrial services provider have signed a memorandum of understanding to build a lithium hydroxide converter for Rock Tech’s planned battery-metals facility in Guben southeast of Berlin, according to a joint statement Wednesday.

Bilfinger will do engineering work and later potentially also procurement for the plant that’s expected to have an annual production capacity of 24,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide—enough to supply batteries for half a million electric vehicles. The facility is due to start production in 2024.

“The production of lithium hydroxide is essential” to help reduce transport-related emissions, Bilfinger’s interim-Chief Executive Officer Christina Johansson said. Rock Tech’s concept for the refinery “is innovative and technologically convincing.”

Refineries are needed to convert the lithium oxide found in spodumene rock deposits into battery-grade chemicals. Having a local smelter would allow Europe to avoid some of the complex logistics involved in shipping what is a highly corrosive substance that reacts violently with water.

Rock Tech plans to largely source the ore for the German factory—which would be near Tesla Inc.’s planned facility and a Volkswagen AG EV plant—from its own spodumene mine in Georgia Lake, Ontario.

Backed by venture capitalist Peter Thiel, Christian Angermayer and hedge fund billionaire Alan Howard, Rock Tech is also preparing a Nasdaq listing to broaden its investor base and help finance the refinery, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg last year.

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