Albemarle and Mineral Resources (MRL) have disclosed that they are in talks over a possible expansion of their MARBL lithium joint venture (MARBL JV) in Australia.

The JV was formed in late 2019 to manage the operation of the Wodgina lithium mine and the Kemerton lithium hydroxide conversion trains in the Pilbara region in Western Australia.

Currently, US-based specialty chemicals manufacturer Albemarle has a 60% stake in MARBL, while its Australian partner holds the remaining 40%.

The parties have now signed a non-binding letter agreement under which the Wodgina lithium mine is to be equally owned by Albemarle and Mineral Resources.

Currently, the US firm has a 60% stake in the spodumene mine, which is planned to be restarted in the third quarter of 2022.

As per the agreement, Albemarle and Mineral Resources will retain their stakes of 60% and 40%, respectively in the Kemerton I/II trains.

The US chemicals firm has also agreed to supply spodumene produced from its lithium mine in Greenbushes, Western Australia for use at the Kemerton lithium hydroxide processing plant.

Albemarle CEO Kent Masters said: “The expansion of MARBL would be consistent with our corporate strategy to pursue profitable growth and to be disciplined stewards of capital.

“Broadening our partnership with MRL would allow us to expand lithium conversion capacity with increased optionality and reduced risk to help meet our global customers’ growing need for high-quality, reliable lithium supply.”

The two parties are considering to create a potential new 50/50 JV to own additional lithium conversion assets outside of Australia with Albemarle to be the operator. Both firms will equally fund the assets.

The non-binding agreement also sees Albemarle continuing as the exclusive marketer of lithium products for the existing MARBL JV and the proposed new JV.

The parties said that the transactions outlined in the non-binding letter agreement are subject to due diligence and execution of binding agreements, which is likely to happen within the next three months.

Mineral Resources managing director Chris Ellison said: “Once finalised, this arrangement will build on our strong partnership with Albemarle to generate sustainable, long-term value from our world-class assets and capitalise on growing global lithium demand.

“Through this agreement, we have a clear pathway to become one of the world’s largest downstream lithium producers by supplying significant volumes of lithium hydroxide using high-quality spodumene from our portfolio of Tier 1 hard rock mines in Western Australia.”