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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.

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