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2017-11-18

Biggest lithium mining operations could be in Australia




Managing Director of Pilbara Minerals, Ken Brinsden, says that the Pilbara mine in Western Australia will soon have the biggest lithium mining operations in the world and Pilbara Minerals will be to the commodity what Rio Tinto is to iron ore. Construction of the company's $234 million, 2mtpa Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum project in Pilbara near Port Hedland is under way with mining expected next month and first shipments anticipated before the end of June next year. The Pilgangoora project will produce a 6 per cent spodumene concentrate that will be upgraded by Pilbara Minerals' Chinese customers into battery-grade lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide to be used in lithium-ion batteries. Brinsden said China was moving rapidly to become a dominant player in the production of lithium-ion batteries and that Pilbara Minerals is set to become one of the world's lowest cost producers of the raw material. "WA, as a whole, is fantastically positioned to become the dominant global player in hard rock lithium mining," he said. Brinsden believes WA's hard rock lithium is of a higher grade than the reserves in Chile, Argentina and Bolivia, with less impurities and will eventually be shown to outperform on a cost basis. Pilbara Minerals has agreements with Chinese customers General Lithium and Gangfeng Lithium and recently announced a deal with Chinese car manufacturer Great Wall which will underwrite the development of Pilgangoora's stage two to boost capacity to 5Mtpa, producing as much as 800,000tpa. Pilbara Minerals is exploring the potential of moving further along the downstream processing chain to produce an even higher-value, higher-margin product such as lithium carbonate and also announced it had two new discoveries on its existing tenements, likely to expand the company's existing resources further. "The more we drill, the more we find," Brinsden said. Altura Mining Ltd, also in Pilgangoora, is also preparing to boost output in the first quarter to Altura's lithium aliance partners in China, for further processing into a wide range of lithium chemicals, including lithium carbonate (standard and battery grade), lithium hydroxide, lithium metal, and lithium chloride. Exports from both mines will go by ship from Port Hedland which is 120km from the mines.