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.
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’ 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’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.