Australia’s Pilbara Minerals Ltd hopes to
capitalise on booming demand for lithium by bringing onstream
its Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum asset next year.
Pilbara Minerals acquired Pilgangoora, situated in the
Pilbara region in the north of Western Australia, from Global
Advanced Metals Pty Ltd (GAM) in 2014 with the aim of
developing it as a longer-term project.
The opportunity to do so arose during talks between the two
parties about the sale of GAM’s Tabba Tabba
tantalum project, which Pilbara’s founders saw
as a relatively small and short-term project.
While assessing the Pilgangoora assets,
Pilbara’s founders noted the presence of spodumene
crystals. When they started a drilling and exploration program
early in 2014, they assayed for lithium oxide or lithia (Li2O)
as well as tantalite, discovering good grades of the
These early results convinced Pilbara’s founders
about the potential of the deposit. They made further
investment to continue to explore, returning high grades for
both lithium and tantalum, and also raised funds for more
development of the project.
Between early 2014 and 2017, the Pilgangoora resource has
increased to 156 million tonnes at 1.25% Li2O from reserves of
80.3 million tonnes at 1.27% Li2O.
Metallurgical results, conducted by Anzaplan in Germany,
indicate the potential to produce a high-grade, low-iron
spodumene concentrate product, similar to that produced at
the Greenbushes lithium mine, also in Western Australia.
The results confirmed that Pilgangoora can produce and
supply not only the standard chemical-grade spodumene (6% Li2O)
but also premium-grade spodumene concentrates (+7.0% Li2O) with
very low iron content - less than 0.13% Fe2O3 - which is
suitable for use in high-quality glass, ceramics and other
Pilbara Mineral considers Pilgangoora to be "one of the
largest hard-rock lithia resources globally, with a
complementary tantalum resource which is also of significant
scale," it told Industrial Minerals. "No other
known deposits in Western Australia or globally, except for
Greenbushes, can produce this premium-grade product in higher
|Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum project.
Pilbara Minerals Ltd
Proximity to the Chinese lithium
Located only 135km from the world’s largest
bulk shipping port in Port Hedland in the Pilbara region -
where some of the largest iron ore companies have carried out
extensive infrastructure works - Pilgangoora is well connected
to the major lithium consumption hub of China, Japan and South
Convinced about the future potential demand for lithium in
the electric vehicle (EV) and energy storage sectors, Pilbara
Minerals has fostered relationships with its major customers,
Ganfeng Lithium and Great Wall Motor Co.
These two companies are also significant shareholders in the
company and, together with General Lithium, have underpinned
its development via offtake agreements for the first and second
The first phase is due for completion during the second
quarter of 2018 as planned, Pilbara Minerals said. It will
allocate 100% of the chemical/battery grade spodumene
production from the first phase to its Chinese customers for
conversion to lithium chemicals.
"The shipping distance is comparatively close and very
competitive. Also, operating in the same time zones and
developing close relationships with customers in these
jurisdictions will greatly assist the successful development of
any lithium production business here in Western Australia,"
Pilbara Minerals told Industrial Minerals.
In the second phase of the project, Pilbara Minerals will
expand mining capacity at Pilgangoora to 5 million tonnes per
year from 2 million tpy. This will raise output of lithium
carbonate equivalent (LCE) to around 105,000 tpy from 40,000
While the company has not disclosed the date by which it
intends to complete this second phase, it said it will look to
make progress to a definitive feasibility study level of
assessment for presentation to its board in the second half of
The company will also seek to diversify its customer base
outside China, bringing on board more strategic buyers along
the lines of Ganfeng or Great Wall.
Lithium carbonate or lithium
The advantage for hard rock producers is the capacity to
produce these two products simultaneously without having
first to produce lithium carbonate and then turn it into
lithium hydroxide, Pilbara Minerals told Industrial
"We believe that both [materials] are essential,"it said.
"The technological development and refinement of lithium
cathode materials is continuous and different applications of
batteries have different specifications.
"These specifications, and the process to achieve these
targets, will dictate which of these two lithium chemicals will
be used," it added.
In the EV sector, both lithium hydroxide and lithium
carbonate are used to produce different sets of lithium
cathode materials that are used for a specific type of
vehicle, from hybrid or plug-in hybrid to fully electric, the
Pilbara Minerals’ priority is to bring the
Pilgangoora Project onstream and to deliver material to its
customers as quickly as possible. It also plans to start
exploration of the Mount Francisco lithium-tantalum
exploration assets, also located in the Pilbara region, next
"We are doing all we can to meet these deadlines and to
continue to grow Pilgangoora’s production to meet
the substantial raw material demand growth we see in China and
elsewhere around the globe," Pilbara Minerals told
As well as working to become a lithium spodumene supplier,
Pilbara Minerals said that is also examining its downstream