Lithium, tantalum: Pilbara Minerals announces Stage 3 expansion plans and begins commercial production

Pilbara Minerals

Australian lithium and tantalum developer Pilbara Minerals announced the start of commercial production from 1st April 2019 following six months of ‘sustained output and quality’ of spodumene concentrate during its Stage 1 project at the Pilgangoora operation. A total of 111kdmt (16,500t LCE assuming 6.0% Li2O grade) of saleable product has been produced to-date and Pilbara expects Q1 2019 production to be in the range of 47-52kdmt. Processing plant feed rates have met the target of 270tph of processed ore. The company plans to continue capacity ramp-up to reach full nameplate capacity later in 2019.

In November last year, Pilbara Minerals reported its intention to proceed with a Stage 2 expansion at Pilgangoora with commissioning scheduled for Q4 2019. The expansion could see spodumene mining increase from 2Mtpy (Stage 1) to 5Mtpy and by-product tantalum production increase from 146tpy Ta2O5 to 363tpy Ta2O5, subject to regulatory approvals. A definitive feasibility study, released in August 2018, costed this expansion at A$231M (US$167M). Pilbara is now considering a Stage 3 expansion that would take total capacity to 7.5Mtpy and almost 500tpy Ta2O5. Pilbara is now exploring options for the financing of Stage 3, which carries an incremental cost of A$226M (US$163M), including potential off-take backed financing. 

The proposed Stage 3 expansion supports Pilbara’s further participation in downstream lithium chemicals facilities including the 40kt LCE downstream lithium hydroxide joint venture plant proposed with POSCO in Korea, which Roskill reported on last month. The JV plant would be supplied with spodumene imported from Pilgangoora and makes use of POSCO’s proprietary PosLX technology. Based on similar-sized plants costing around US$500M, Pilbara would need to raise around US$150M to cover its share. Pilbara is also evaluating potential participation in a second lithium chemical conversion facility, with the scoping and location study identifying several Australian and international locations as economically viable.

To discuss the lithium market with Roskill, contact David Merriman: merriman@roskill.com or Robert Baylis: robert@roskill.com

To discuss the tantalum market with Roskill, contact Suzanne Shaw: suzanne@roskill.com