11/05/2021 - 11:00

Pilbara Minerals considers lithium refinery and JV

11/05/2021 - 11:00

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Pilbara Minerals is considering the joint development of a midstream lithium chemicals refinery at its Pilgangoora operation in WA, under an agreement with Sydney-based Calix.

Pilbara Minerals considers lithium refinery and JV
Ken Brinsden says the spodumene (lithium) market is moving through a rapid growth phase. Photo: Matt Jelonek

Pilbara Minerals is considering the joint development of a midstream lithium chemicals refinery at its Pilgangoora operation in Western Australia, under an agreement with Sydney-based Calix.

The companies have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to evaluate a new refining process for Pilgangoora, located 120 kilometres from Port Hedland, using ASX-listed Calix’s calcination (heating) technology to produce a concentrated lithium salt.

Pilbara Minerals says this process is well suited to fine spodumene (lithium) concentrate feed.

Under the MoU, the companies will complete a scoping study to jointly develop a demonstration plant, with a view to negotiating and entering a joint venture to build and operate the facility and further commercialise the technology developed.

The proposed plant will likely use fine particle, lower grade spodumene concentrate from Pilgangoora to create a low-carbon, concentrated lithium salt, which Pilbara Minerals says can be further refined into lithium battery materials or used as a direct feedstock in cathode manufacturing.

Pilbara Minerals managing director Ken Brinsden said the spodumene market was moving through a rapid growth phase while downstream industries were looking for a lower carbon footprint in end-products.

“At the [Pilgangoora] mine, if we can efficiently calcine a lower grade spodumene concentrate, we should be able to achieve a higher recovery from the ore body, meaning less mine wastage and lower cost,” he said.

“The opportunity to produce a higher-value product in Australia should also allow us to capture more of the overall value in the new-energy industry as it develops.

“By shipping a much higher-value lithium concentrate, most of the waste remains and is handled at the mine site, meaning that our customers are not stuck with the cost of shipping or storing this waste, and providing a material reduction in carbon emissions arising from freight.”

Mr Brinsden said the Pilgangoora operation would be able to connect to renewable power sources by using an electric calciner.

Calix managing director Phil Hodgson said the business had been testing spodumene concentrates of different grades and particle sizes for the past nine months.

“This proof-of-concept work demonstrated that Calix technology was able to achieve [more than] 95 per cent conversion of the spodumene ore to an extractable lithium, which is comparable to the conventional rotary kiln process, but with fine and lower grade material,” he said.

“We look forward to working with Pilbara Minerals on this exciting project for the hard-rock lithium industry, and also other mining and process companies in other minerals to improve their industrial processes, reduce costs and increase their sustainability.”

Pilbara Minerals is completing a series of plant improvements at Pilgangoora, expected to increase production capacity to about 380,000 dry metric tonnes per annum. The mine currently produces at a rate of about 330,000dmtpa.

The stage one upgrades being carried out by a joint venture between local businesses, ASX-listed SIMPEC and indigenous-owned IronMerge.

Shares in Pilbara Minerals were down 4.4 per cent at 12:19pm AEST on Tuesday, to trade at $1.25.

Meanwhile, Calix was trading 4 per cent higher to $2.65.

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