Pilbara Minerals plans to form a joint venture with tech company Calix to examine the development of a midstream lithium chemicals refinery at the Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum operation in Western Australia.
A memorandum of understanding between the companies will involve a scoping study to understand the refinery process for producing concentrated lithium for batteries using Calix’s calcination technology.
If successful, the JV will look to build a demonstration plant at Pilgangoora, with an aim to develop Calix’s electrically heated kiln technology to introduce a world-first commercial-demonstration-scale, low-emissions lithium salt production facility.
“At the mine, if we can efficiently calcine a lower-grade spodumene concentrate we should also be able to achieve a higher recovery from the ore body, meaning less mine wastage and lower cost,” Pilbara Minerals managing director and chief executive officer Ken Brinsden said.
Meanwhile, Pilbara Minerals has reported new high-grade exploration results at Pilgangoora, which the company believes justify its acquisition of Altura Mining (finalised in April).
Brinsden said the positive results were in line with what was expected of the prosperous region.
“The area adjacent to the old Altura tenement boundary has always offered significant exploration potential and was considered one of the benefits for Pilbara Minerals undertaking the Altura asset acquisition,” Brinsden said.
“These results from the current program confirm the potential endowment of this area and we intend to work hard on this area in the coming months to add further value to the integrated operations.”
Pilbara Minerals has scheduled the release of an updated combined mineral resource between the Pilgangoora and Altura operations, due in the September quarter of 2021.
Brinsden said the quality of resource at the operations, 100 kilometres south-east of Port Hedland, would serve the world’s rising demand for lithium as the transition to clean energy takes effect.
“The Pilgangoora project is one of the world’s great lithium resources which will play an important part in raw materials supply across the globe, including value-added products, as the global decarbonisation push and electrification drive gathers significant momentum,” Brinsden said.
The high-grade results included a 15-metre sample at 2.35 per cent lithium oxide and 110 parts per million of tantalum peroxide, which is used in optical glass and fibre.