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Perth to get $400m Lithium plant

AAP logoAAP 12/10/2016 Greg Roberts

The start of work on a $400 million lithium plant in Perth was proof that WA's economy was moving on from the mining boom, says WA Premier Colin Barnett.

The mineral lithium is in high demand thanks to its use in renewable energy storage and in batteries for a range of products, including electric cars, as well as uses in glass and ceramics.

The world's largest lithium producer, Chinese company Tianqi has invested in and will operate the 24,000 tonne a year plant that will produce lithium.

The project in Perth's Kwinana industrial area would create 500 jobs while being built and 115 when in operation.

It would also benefit WA's southwest, with production likely to double at the Greenbushes mine, near Bunbury, to supply the Kwinana plant, he said.

That mine, which Tianqi owns 51 per cent of, produces 30 per cent of the world's lithium and has the largest reserves on the planet - yet another resource WA is a major producer of along with iron ore, petroleum, nickel, gold, alumina and others.

But Mr Barnett says the new plant is an example of WA's economy evolving naturally towards higher-level, value-adding downstream processing from the mining of natural resources.

"This plant is an actual manufacturing plant, not a mining project and a month ago I opened a major chemical manufacturing plant in Karratha and that's part of the transition happening to the Western Australian economy," Mr Barnett said at a ceremony to start work on building the plant.

"It is taking the Western Australian economy to a higher level. There will be very highly skilled technical and scientific jobs attached to this ... there will also be a significant research component. People are always looking for ways to better use lithium and improve the efficiency and longevity of battery systems.

"Our mining industry over the last few years in particular had enormous growth and has reached a mature level. What we're seeing now is the expansion into some of the more exotic materials like lithium, rare earths, uranium and so on."

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