West Australia eyes more downstream Li output
Perth, 14 March (Argus) — The state of Western Australia is actively trying to position itself as a premier location for downstream lithium processing, adding to its status as the world's major source of hard rock lithium ore resources.
Most downstream lithium hydroxide and carbonate production currently takes place in Chile, Argentina and China.
China's Tianqi Lithium is doubling capacity at its lithium hydroxide plant at Kwinana near Perth to 48,000 t/yr while US-based Albermarle Corporation mulls the development of a 20,000 t/yr lithium hydroxide plant at Bunbury, south of Perth. Tianqi and Albermarle are partners in the Greenbushes lithium mine.
"We are working with the lithium industry to attract further downstream investments to make the most of the lithium resources in our state," Western Australia's Minister for Mines and Petroleum, Bill Johnston, said at a battery minerals conference in Perth.
Three new lithium mines are starting production in Western Australia this year as the state cements its position as the world's hard rock lithium centre. These are the Bald Hill mine, owned by Tawana Resources/Alliance Minerals Assets, the Pilgangoora project owned by Pilbara Minerals and the Altura project owned by Altura Mining.
Lithium mines already in operation include Greenbushes, Galaxy Resources' Mt Cattlin mine and Neometals-Mineral Resources' Mt Marion mine.
"If you want a 30-year project, Western Australia is the best place to do it – there are many other places in the world where you can't say that," Johnston said. This is based on mineral resources, energy availability, regulatory certainty, a skilled workforce and robust infrastructure.
The world's largest lithium brine producer, Chile-based Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile S.A. (SQM), has a joint venture with Kidman Resources to develop the Mt Holland lithium project in Western Australia. It is considering the development of a lithium hydroxide or carbonate plant.
Another company considering downstream development is Pilbara Minerals, which is close to producing its first concentrate from its Pilgangoora project. It has Chinese and Korean offtake agreements for most of its output, but is eyeing the possibility of downstream production to access higher profit margins.
"We have a vision for downstream lithium processing in our state and want to maximise the opportunities for developments to take place. It makes sense as we have everything here," Johnston added.
Royalties from lithium output in the state are expected to rise to $A23mn ($19mn) in 2017-18 from A$15mn in 2016-17. This should increase further in 2018-19.