IN THE FAST LANE

Pro­duc­tion may have just be­gun at Pil­bara Min­er­als and Al­tura Min­ing’s neigh­bour­ing Pil­gan­goora lithium projects but the min­ers are show­ing no signs of slow­ing, with Stage 2 ex­pan­sion plans push­ing ahead.

The Australian Mining Review - - FRONT PAGE - JES­SICA CUM­MINS & ELIZ­A­BETH FABRI

WA is in the box seat to tap into grow­ing global de­mand for elec­tric ve­hi­cle and static stor­age bat­ter­ies.

In re­cent months, dis­cus­sions have been cen­tred on the idea the State could es­tab­lish it­self as a ‘ lithium val­ley’; es­sen­tially a global hub for lithium min­ing and down­stream pro­cess­ing.

The State was al­ready home to the mam­moth Green­bushes mine, and newly opened Mt Cat­tlin project and Mt Mar­ion mine, near Cool­gar­die.

Newly minted Pil­bara pro­duc­ers, Pil­bara Min­er­als and Al­tura Min­ing were also mak­ing mas­sive strides, be­gin­ning pro­duc­tion at their neigh­bour­ing Pil­gan­goora projects in June and July re­spec­tively.

Speak­ing at the open­ing of Al­tura’s mine in Septem­ber, WA Mines min­is­ter Bill John­ston con­grat­u­lated the miner on its achievement, cit­ing the Gov­ern­ment’s newly es­tab­lished Lithium and En­ergy Ma­te­ri­als In­dus­try task­force, which aimed to cap­i­talise on the State’s po­ten­tial to pro­duce and process lithium and other en­ergy ma­te­ri­als.

“Our aim is to help com­pa­nies like Al­tura develop the State’s world- lead­ing lithium in­dus­try, which cre­ates op­por­tu­ni­ties and jobs for Western Aus­tralians,” Mr John­ston said.

“We have an abun­dance of lithium and other bat­tery min­er­als, and the Mc­Gowan Gov­ern­ment is com­mit­ted to mak­ing the most of this once- in- a- gen­er­a­tion op­por­tu­nity.

“By ex­pand­ing fur­ther into the bat­tery ma­te­ri­als value chain, the State will fur­ther di­ver­sify the WA econ­omy and max­imise ben­e­fits to the lo­cal com­mu­nity.”

In 2017 WA lithium sales reached $ 780 mil­lion, and the sec­tor em­ployed more than 1200 peo­ple.

This num­ber is set to ex­plode as new projects like Pil­gan­goora come on­line, as well as Tawana Re­sources’ Bald Hill project, and Kid­man Re­sources’ Earl Grey project.

Pil­bara Min­er­als

Pil­bara Min­er­als’ Pil­gan­goora lithium-tan­ta­lum project was on track for its first spo­dumene con­cen­trate ship­ment at the end of Septem­ber.

In a state­ment, the com­pany said the Pil­gan­goora 2mpta Stage 1 con­cen­tra­tor was achiev­ing strong pro­duc­tion through­put for both coarse and fines cir­cuits.

“Both cir­cuits are achiev­ing ex­cep­tional prod­uct qual­ity, con­firm­ing the abil­ity of the Pil­gan­goora Project to de­liver a pre­mium qual­ity prod­uct to world mar­kets,” the com­pany stated.

“The com­pany is on track to de­liver a min­i­mum of 5000 tonnes of spo­dumene con­cen­trate ready for ship-load­ing in Port Hed­land from ap­prox­i­mately 20 Septem­ber, with the fo­cus now on grow­ing pro­duc­tion and stock­pil­ing con­cen­trate (both on site and in Port Hed­land) for sub­se­quent ship­ments to Pil­bara Min­er­als’ pre­mier cus­tomer group.”

Mo­men­tum was also build­ing for Stage 2 of the project.

In Au­gust, the com­pany an­nounced the out­comes of its Stage 2 De­fin­i­tive Fea­si­bil­ity Study (DFS).

While the DFS con­firmed a slight in­crease in cap­i­tal costs from $207 mil­lion to $231 mil­lion, the en­gi­neer­ing re-de­sign in­tro­duced an ad­di­tional 3mtpa cir­cuit com­pared to the 2.5mtpa con­tem­plated by the PFS.

Pil­bara Min­er­als said the Stage 2, 5mtpa ex­pan­sion would be a glob­ally cost com­pet­i­tive op­er­a­tion pro­duc­ing be­tween 800,000 and 850,000tpa of high-qual­ity spo­dumene con­cen­trate over its 17 year mine life.

The ex­pan­sion al­ready had strong sup­port from all four of Pil­bara Min­er­als’ cor­ner­stone cus­tomers and strate­gic part­ners.

“The en­cour­age­ment from our part­ners, Gen­eral Lithium, Gan­feng Lithium, Great Wall Mo­tors and POSCO, to ex­pand our op­er­a­tions has been out­stand­ing,” Mr Brins­den said.

“Th­ese highly ex­pe­ri­enced part­ners know the mar­ket and their on­go­ing sup­port, par­tic­u­larly with Stage 2 fi­nanc­ing, is a clear demon­stra­tion of the strong fu­ture de­mand for lithium and the high qual­ity of the Pil­gan­goora project.”

On 17 Septem­ber, the com­pany also an­nounced a 35 per cent in­crease in proved and prob­a­ble ore re­serves to 108 mil­lion tonnes.

“The con­tin­ued growth in Ore Re­serves re­flected the qual­ity and scale of the Pil­gan­goora project and truly sets the scene for our Stage 2, 5Mtpa ex­pan­sion,” Mr Brins­den said.

Pil­bara Min­er­als said pro­duc­tion was set to ex­pand to 5mpta from the fourth quar­ter of 2019.

Al­tura Min­ing

Al­tura’s Pil­gan­goora project, was also go­ing to plan with its first haulage of spo­dumene prod­uct de­liv­ered to the Qube stor­age fa­cil­ity in Port Hed­land in Au­gust.

Ramp up to 220,000 tonnes per an­num was tar­geted for the end of the cal­en­dar year, and an ex­pan­sion will see pro­duc­tion dou­ble to 440,000 tonnes of lithium con­cen­trate per an­num in the first half of 2020.

Al­tura re­cently com­pleted a scop­ing study look­ing into the po­ten­tial ex­pan­sion.

“The re­sults we re­ceived were out­stand­ing, with NPV of the project in­creas­ing to $834m, IRR of 63 per cent and a 2.3 year pay back,” Al­tura chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Chris Evans said.

“More im­por­tantly, Stage-2 is sig­nif­i­cantly de-risked by hav­ing all ma­jor statu­tory ap­provals, key per­son­nel and con­trac­tors in place from Stage-1.

“A de­ci­sion will be made in due course.”

On the ex­plo­ration front he said the com­pany would con­tinue to build on its world-class re­source.

In early Septem­ber, the com­pany an­nounced it had com­menced a geo­phys­i­cal sur­vey at its Cleopa­tra prospect, 3.5km south­east of Pil­gan­goora, which has iden­ti­fied gold and cop­per anom­alies.

Pos­i­tive drill re­sults were also con­firmed at the South­ern Ridge de­posit in April, which has been ear­marked for in­fill drilling due to its po­ten­tial to in­crease the ore re­serve and min­eral re­source es­ti­mate of the Al­tura project.

Mr Evans said the com­pany con­tin­ues to re­main pos­i­tive on the lithium mar­ket.

“The elec­tric ve­hi­cle and elec­tric static stor­age move­ment con­tin­ues to gain strong mo­men­tum, and with clean en­ergy poli­cies be­com­ing a ma­jor pri­or­ity for gov­ern­ments across the world, lithium will con­tinue to play an in­te­gral part in the re­al­i­sa­tion of th­ese poli­cies,” Mr Evans said.

“When we broke ground at the Al­tura Lithium project 18 months ago, we set an ag­gres­sive time­line which would al­low Al­tura to gain a first-mover ad­van­tage in this rapidly grow­ing mar­ket, and with our Stage 1 op­er­a­tions pro­gress­ing to name­plate ca­pac­ity, we are in a strong po­si­tion to con­tinue to de­liver value to all stake­hold­ers of the busi­ness.”

The open­ing of Al­tura’s lithium mine.

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