Partners commit to Pilbara lithium plant

Pilbara Minerals’ proposed A$105 million (US$70m) lithium phosphate plant in Western Australia’s Pilbara region can be a “game changer” for the company and battery materials supply chain, CEO Dale Henderson says.

This week’s formal commitment to work with ASX-listed technology company Calix to build a “mid-stream demonstration plant” at Pilbara Minerals’ Pilgangoora hard-rock lithium operation follows pilot testing and indepth studies by the mining major and its partner. They formed a joint venture in the December quarter last year.

Pilgangoora accounts for about 8% of current global mined lithium supply. Pilbara Minerals’ sales revenue leapt 238% in FY23 to A$4 billion on the back of a 64% increase in production to circa-620,000 tonnes of spodumene concentrate, and an 87% improvement in average prices received.

“The mid-stream strategy has potential to materially improve the battery materials supply chain for lithium through reduction in carbon energy intensity, reduction in transport volumes and creating more value at the mine site,” Henderson said.

“It has the potential to be a game changer compared to the traditional spodumene to chemicals processing route.”

Pilbara Minerals’ final investment decision (FID) to go ahead with the project means it could be producing more than 3000 tonnes a year of lithium phosphate (Li3PO4) from about 27,000tpa of concentrate feed from 2026.

Successful demonstration of Calix’s electric kiln calcination technology “may lead to its commercialisation at an industrial scale”, say the partners. Independent life-cycle assessment (LCA) indicates converting spodumene in an electric calciner, using 100% renewable energy, could reduce calcination carbon emissions intensity by more than 80% (versus gas-powered alernative), according to Pilbara Minerals.

“The Calix electric calciner designed for the project represents a commercial-scale single tube kiln,” the company said.

“Deployment of this technology in a commercial-scale chemical train will comprise multiple units of a comparable scale.”

The project has $20 million of Australian Government Modern Manufacturing Initiative (MMI) grant funding. Pilbara Minerals is meeting 79% of the balance, and Calix 21%.

“The demonstration plant with Calix is an important step to further the development of the technology with the aim of commercialising the technology for application at the Pilgangoora operation and across the lithium industry through our commercialisation JV with Calix,” Henderson said.

“This could in time open up an additional revenue stream for the company.”

Pilbara Minerals says producing a mid-stream lithium output could unlock economically stranded hard-rock assets worldwide.

It also has a joint venture with POSCO to 43,000tpa lithium hydroxide facility in Gwangyang, South Korea.

Calix share price was up 2.66% today to $4.24, capitalising the company at about $770 million.

Pilbara Minerals has a current market value around $14.7 billion.


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