‘Come back in a couple of years’, Pilbara boss tells lithium buyers

 

Pilbara Minerals (ASX: PLS) boss Ken Brinsden says the company is being inundated with requests for lithium supply.

Brinsden told the Resources Rising Stars conference in Queensland, Australia, that the A$284 million Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum project in the Pilbara was close to commissioning.

“At Pilgangoora, it’s action stations,” he said.

“We’re right on the cusp now of production.”

All of the expected 300,000-350,000 tonnes per annum of spodumene is committed under offtake deals with General Lithium and Ganfeng Lithium.

The company will also make a final investment decision on a A$207 million stage 2 expansion in July.

Brinsden gave the strongest indication yet that it would go ahead, confirming that long-lead items had been ordered.

Ganfeng, Great Wall Motors and POSCO have options over all of the planned stage 2 production of 500,000-550,000tpa.

“We’ve attracted the premier lithium partners to our project,” Brinsden said.

Brinsden said Pilbara was getting calls “every second day” from end users seeking spodumene supply.

“I say to them, ‘we’re sold out – come back to us in a couple of years’,” he said.

Pilbara might be sold out of lithium for now, but it’s certainly not running out of it.

Today, the company once again boosted the resource for Pilgangoora.

The total resource has increased by 36% to 213 million tonnes at 1.32% lithium oxide, 116 parts per million tantalum pentoxide and 0.69% iron oxide containing 2.82Mt of lithium oxide and 54.6 million pounds of tantalum pentoxide, using a 0.5% lithium oxide cut-off.

“Heaps more tonnes, higher grade,” Brinsden said today.

“It’s massive.”

Increasing the cut-off grade to 1% still delivers a resource of 160.8Mt at 1.5% lithium oxide for 2.4Mt of lithium oxide.

Brinsden said the upgrade reconfirmed Pilgangoora’s position as a critical source of supply for the growing lithium-ion battery sector.

He says the world is still underestimating the rate of growth, particularly in China.

Roskill’s 2016 lithium outlook to 2025 had consumption at a base case 328,000t of lithium carbonate, while 2017’s base case was three times that number.

“I’m hanging out for the 2018 number – it’s due imminently,” Brinsden said.

The market in China grew by 50% in 2017 alone.

“It’s absolutely extraordinary,” Brinsden said.

“According to Roskill’s analysis, the lack of commercially available alternatives to lithium in Li-ion battery technologies will continue to drive demand growth, with demand from rechargeable batteries forecast to increase by 19.5% per year to 2027,” Roskill said ahead of the release of next week’s report.

“Mineral processing capacity in China is forecast to expand significantly in 2018, to in excess of 260,000tpy LCE.”

*Kristie Batten is editor of www.miningnews.net

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