STEPHEN BIGGINS CORE LITHIUM
Core Lithium — formerly Core Exploration — will soon make the transition from explorer to producer with its highly prospective Finniss lithium project set to come online by the end of 2019. Jessica Cummins spoke with managing director Stephen Biggins about recent highlights and the company’s name change. Q. Why did you decide to change the company name from Core Exploration to Core Lithium?
With a clear path to production at Finniss, Core is evolving as a business and so we felt it was right that the name of our company should reflect that evolution.
We are on the verge of becoming Australia’s next lithium producer. So it made sense for us to replace the ‘Exploration’ from our name in place of ‘Lithium’ as we steadily work towards transitioning from explorer to producer next year.
Q. Core has been working hard at becoming the Northern Territory’s first lithium producer. What have been some of the major highlights for the company to date?
We had been quietly working away on developing the Finniss lithium project for a long time before we released the Pre-Feasibility Study on the project in June, and that alone was a huge milestone for us.
But as we were getting closer to releasing that report we came to the realisation that A) given our timeline to production (late 2019), there really isn’t any other lithium project in Australia that is due to come online between now and then, and B) we are at the forefront of putting the Northern Territory on the map as a region of the country that is rich in lithium resources.
So we’re quite proud that we’re able to say we will be the first lithium producer out of the NT, assuming everything goes according to plan.
The project has also attracted the attention of two significant Chinese customers who are not only committing to a large amount of the offtake from Finniss but are also set to provide enough financial support that this project will be fully funded into production.
Q. Core announced a 42 per cent increase in the Grants lithium resource late October. Describe the significance of these results?
This is just the latest in a series of testaments this year to the quality of the larger Finniss project and how it’s going to shake up the Australian lithium sector.
We’ve been monitoring the public forums as we’ve progressed the Grants deposit since we released the PFS, and there was certainly some exciting chatter amongst shareholders after we announced the 42 per cent increase. But it’s important to remember that while Grants is shaping up, there is also the BP33 prospect and a few other smaller prospects that together are going to all add up to a major boon for us when we release the Definitive Feasibility Study (DFS) in late November.
The 42 per cent increase means we will have a much larger resource to mine and will be able to do so over a longer period of time at Finniss.
Q. When do you hope to begin construction and first production?
We’re at the 11th hour of completing our Definitive Feasibility Study on the Finniss project, so we’ll have some more definitive timeframes to reveal then, but we’re expecting construction to begin around the middle of the 2019 calendar year.
We’ve been saying for a while now that we’ll be in production before the end of 2019 and we expect to meet that deadline.
Q. The Finniss project is set to be one of the least capital intensive and cost-competitive spodumene operations in the country – what is your strategy for lowering costs?
Whatever strategy we have developed has stemmed from the amazing economics Finniss holds right off the bat; the project’s close proximity to Darwin Port, to grid power, gas and rail infrastructure, and of course local employment capabilities to name a few.
These have all contributed to the project’s minimal capex needs.
In particular, our decision to operate in a Direct Shipping Ore capacity – coupled with the close trucking distance to Darwin Port – both lowers costs and makes Finniss an attractive supplier of lithium to Asian buyers as Darwin Port is arguably the best route between the two continents.
Q. How was the offtake process progressing?
The offtake process has been relatively smooth for us to-date; our offtake and $US20m Prepayment Agreement with YaHua has been locked in for a while now, and we are finalising binding documents with RuiFu currently, so having those two agreements in place has created a huge layer of financial and investment security over this project.
Q. Describe some of Core’s other exciting exploration projects?
Outside of Finniss, Core has a number of copper, zinc and lead projects scattered across the Northern Territory and South Australia, as well as two uranium projects in the same areas.
We recently revealed a resource re-estimation for our Napperby uranium project in the Northern Territory so that it follows the JORC 2012 Code guidelines, which is timely given the fact that the uranium spot price has increased by about 40 per cent over the past year.
We’ve been holding discussions with a number of interested parties with a view of potentially selling or partially selling Napperby. Those discussions are currently happening but it’s still early days.
With Finniss due to come online and start producing before the end of next year, our focus is really on that core project right now so it makes sense for us to realise value from some of these other assets that have considerable potential; they’re just not our immediate priority at this stage.
Q. What are your projections for the global lithium market?
In the context of recent year-on-year growth of electric vehicle sales in US of 65 per cent, China 44 per cent and Europe of 42 per cent, Core is well placed to be the next high-quality lithium concentrate producer in Australia in 2019.
Forecasters are continuing to revise upward the uptake of EV sales globally as technology efficiencies rapidly improve lithium batteries efficiency and EV prices. Accordingly, the forecast short-term and long-term aggressive demand growth for lithium batteries and outlook for spodumene is very strong.