U.S. Markets close in 1 hr 58 mins

China's General Lithium to launch 60,000 T spodumene converter by end-2020

SHANGHAI, April 12 (Reuters) - General Lithium Corp, China's fourth-biggest lithium producer, plans to start building a plant to convert mineral ore to lithium that will more than triple its capacity by the end of 2020, a company official said on Friday.

The plant will convert spodumene, a hard-rock mineral mined for lithium, into 60,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) per year in the city of Yichang, in central China's Hubei province, said the official, who asked not to be identified, during an interview on the sidelines of an industry conference.

The expansion, from General Lithium's current capacity of 22,000 tonnes of LCE per year, mounts a challenge to competitors Ganfeng Lithium Co and Tianqi Lithium , two of the world's biggest producers, although all major lithium firms are expanding due to rising demand for the metal used in batteries for electric vehicles.

"Our plan is to get this done by the end of next year," the official told Reuters, adding that General Lithium has already secured all the necessary government approvals for the plant and is preparing the ground to start construction.

He was unable to put a figure on the total investment required but said every 10,000 tonnes of LCE capacity in China generally needs investment of between 250 million to 300 million yuan ($44.7 million).

However, the spodumene offtake secured by the company so far - from Australia, Brazil and Canada -- will not be enough to feed the new facility. "We need more. We are in very frequent contact with all the major guys," the official said.

General Lithium currently intends to make 90 percent of the new plant's output as in-demand battery-grade lithium hydroxide and 10 percent lithium carbonate. "But our line designs are fully flexible and we can do the reverse," the official said.

The company already has conversion capacity in China's Jiangxi and Jiangsu provinces, as well as a smaller facility in Qinghai that processes brine from salt lakes.

It will receive an estimated 135,000 tonnes of spodumene concentrate offtake this year, the official said, and continues to carry out tolling in Jiangsu with volumes from the Greenbushes mine in Australia, a joint venture between Tianqi and Albemarle Corp. ($1 = 6.7064 Chinese yuan renminbi) (Reporting by Tom Daly; editing by Christian Schmollinger)