If there’s been a feel-good success story in the Australian mining industry over the past few years, Pilbara Minerals would be it.
The company weathered the 2019 downturn in the lithium market and established a Tier 1 project that’s only just realising its full potential.
Pilbara Minerals has a huge public footprint. It was trading at $2.82 on August 1, with a market capitalisation of $8.42 billion, yet new managing director and chief executive officer Dale Henderson still feels the company is a “minnow”, considering its personnel.
“Pilbara’s this little Aussie upstart who’s carved out its own position and got a foothold. It’s pretty amazing,” Henderson told Australian Resources & Investment.
“We have a big profile within the lithium industry, but by numbers, we’re tiny, we’re a little minnow. So it’s pretty exciting when I think about this new Australian business who’s in many ways leading.
“We didn’t plan to be leading – it kind of ended up that way out of necessity – and here we are at this incredible part of the cycle and the opportunity to extend that reach in time. It’s pretty neat.”
Pilbara Minerals made a final investment decision (FID) in late June to increase the production capacity of its Pilgangoora operation in Western Australia from 580,000 to 680,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) of spodumene concentrate (P680 project).
Henderson said this expansion spoke to the staged growth profile Pilbara Minerals has always contemplated for Pilgangoora, with the aim of eventually boosting capacity to one million tonnes per annum – and potentially beyond.
Another FID planned in 2022 aims to add a further 100,000tpa of capacity, bringing the project to a 780,000tpa production profile.
Pilbara Minerals eventually aims to expand Pilgangoora’s production capacity to one million tonnes per annum and beyond.
The company is also advancing a ‘midstream’ project in collaboration with technology company Calix.
The two signed a binding memorandum of understanding (MoU) in June, which paves the way for a joint venture to be established and a demonstration plant to be built. The companies will trial the production of lithium salts via an innovative refining process.
If successfully developed and proven, the new process could mean shipping spodumene concentrate is a thing of the past, with the higher-grade lithium salts product to take its place.
Pilbara Minerals produced 127,236 dry metric tonnes of spodumene concentrate from its Pilgangoora operation in the June quarter, representing a 56 per cent increase from the quarter before.