Precious metals miner Sibanye-Stillwater (JSE: SSW) (NYSE: SBSW) approved on Monday a €588 million ($616m) investment to advance its Keliber lithium project in Finland.
The South African miner said its board-approved capital expenditure program would start with construction of a lithium hydroxide refinery within Finland’s Kokkola industrial park. The area hosts a logistics hub from where the company plans to feed into the European battery sector.
With the operation, Sibanye-Stillwater aims to be the first fully-integrated lithium producer in Europe, targeting first production in 2024.
It will then ramp up to produce around 15,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide per year, enough for 300,000 electric vehicles (EVs).
The miner owns about 85% of Finnish battery chemical maker Keliber, which in turn owns the namesake lithium project.
“We are delighted to advance and grow our presence in the European battery metals industry through Keliber,” chief executive Neal Froneman said in the statement.
He noted the mine, which will mainly supply the European market, is forecast to have the lowest carbon emission footprints in the industry.
Sibanye plans to underwrite a €104 million ($109m) capital increase by Keliber by the end of January while at least €250 million ($261m) will be be borrowed to fund construction of the project.
Construction of the Päiväneva concentrator and the initial two open pit mines — Syväjärvi and the flagship Rapasaari — will commence once all the environmental permits are received.
The Syväjärvi mine is fully permitted, while the environmental permits at the Rapasaari mine and the Päiväneva concentrator are currently outstanding, Sibanye said.
The company, one of the world’s largest producers of platinum and palladium, also recently acquired other lithium and nickel assets in the US and Europe. With prices for those and other battery metals ballooning over the past year, mergers and acquisitions in the sector are less appealing at the moment, Froneman has said.
The proposed Keliber lithium mine consists of several advanced stage lithium spodumene deposits with 9.3 million tonnes of ore reserves and it contemplates the construction of a chemical plant near the port of Kokkola.
Once in operations, output is expected to reach 15,000 tonnes of battery grade lithium hydroxide a year during its mine-life.
Europe has a limited number of lithium mining and refinery projects under development, many of which are yet to secure financing or environmental permits.