Pilbara Minerals expansion on track as offtake signed

Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum project. Image: Pilbara Minerals

Pilbara Minerals has delivered a strong quarter of production as plans to grow plant capacity at the Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum project continue.

The company’s output from Pilgangoora equalled 43,214 dry metric tonnes in the June quarter, which was at the upper end of the company’s guidance for the period.

Pilbara Minerals also reported consistent quality of concentrate, with the grade shipped during the June quarter maintaining levels of six per cent lithium oxide and 1.2 per cent iron oxide respectively.

Its production in June totalled 19,490 dry metric tonnes, which was also on track despite a plant shutdown that lasted 4.5 days.

The results are consistent with the company’s plans for expansion at Pilgangoora; it is targeting 100 per cent of design lithia recovery by the end of 2019.

Pilbara Minerals has also clarified timing for deliveries in the second half of this year, announcing its sales guidance will be in the range of 35,000 to 48,000 dry metric tonnes during the September quarter.

This is expected to be met by a combination of existing concentrate stocks and future production, and takes into consideration the company’s 14-day plant shutdown in late July.

Sales are expected to more closely align with full plant production from October 1 this year, considering the continued ramp-up of plant performance.

As such, the company anticipates sales for the December 2019 quarter to be in the range of 65,000-80,000 dry metric tonnes.

Its sales in the second half of this year are expected to be strengthened by an additional offtake agreement signed with China’s Great Wall Motor Company.

Deliveries under the contract are expected to start in August 2019 at the rate of 20,000 dry metric tonnes per annum and continue for a period of approximately six years.

Sales volumes to Great Wall are expected to be in the range of 15,000 to 20,000 dry metric tonnes during the second half of this year.

Great Wall has been pushing to expand its presence in the lithium-ion supply chain, which has culminated in its request Pilbara Minerals make offtake available earlier and at greater volume than anticipated by prior agreements.

Pilbara Minerals also reported “strong progress” in its joint venture (JV) terms with South Korean steel-making company POSCO.

The two companies have reached an in-principle agreement on terms for a downstream chemical conversion plant, which will see Pilbara Minerals support the proposed JV’s annual capacity of 40,000 tonnes lithium carbonate equivalent, with spodumene concentrate supply over the life of the project.

The offtake agreement with POSCO is based on the strength of lithium chemicals pricing in South Korea, which is supported by the growing market for lithium chemicals among key Tier 1 Korean battery manufacturers.

Pilbara Minerals reported “modest sales” to POSCO in support of the existing large-scale pilot plant with a total of 6020 dry metric tonnes being shipped from Pilgangoora to POSCO to date.

According to Pilbara Minerals, the spodumene concentrate from Pilgangoora which is processed via the POSCO plant is producing an “industry-leading lithium hydroxide product.”

This coincides with POSCO gearing up for participation with Tier 1 battery manufacturers in the growing South Korean and international battery markets.

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