The lithium train shows no sign of slowing in WA as the state’s newest mine officially opens, with plans already in motion to expand the Pilbara operation. The first shipment from Pilbara Minerals’ Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum project left the mine on October 2 but was officially opened by WA Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Johnston on Friday.
Located 120 kilometres south of Port Hedland, the mine will produce 330,000 tonnes of lithium a year and about 300,000 pounds of tantalum. The Pilgangoora project’s workforce peaked at more than 800 during construction, but now there are about 200 operational staff on-site and in Perth.The opening comes just more than four years to the day the first hole was drilled and is one of the fastest major lithium developments in recent history. Plans are already underway to expand the mine. Pilbara Minerals’ board approved a stage-two expansion on Monday, which — subject to approvals — will see it become one of the biggest lithium mines in the world, producing more than 800,000 tonnes of lithium a year.
That lithium has already been snapped up, with 100 per cent of the stage-two offtake to go to customers like South Korean steel-maker POSCO, Chinese lithium producer Ganfeng Lithium and Great Wall Motor Company.
The lithium and tantalum produced will eventually end up in batteries for houses and cars. A global demand spike has been predicted, with the uptake in electric vehicles and renewables expected to boom over coming decades.
Pilbara Minerals managing director and chief executive Ken Brinsden said the mine would provide vital lithium raw materials for the development of clean energy technologies and thanked the Federal Government’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation for a $20 million investment in the project.
The Pilgangoora deposit is one of the most lithium-rich in the world and in September neighbouring lithium miner Altura also celebrated the first shipment from its mine.
Altura and Pilbara Minerals have signed a mutual access agreement to share infrastructure such as access roads and pipeline routes.
Mr Johnston said the project had quickly evolved, becoming one of Australia’s fastest lithium developments. He said he looked forward to sharing a future battery industry strategy in the coming months.