Australia-based Pilbara Minerals made its first lithium spodumene shipment to customers in North Asia on Tuesday October 2, using material from its Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum project.

Pilbara Minerals shipped a total of 8,800 tonnes of lithium spodumene concentrate min 6.1% and 1.2% Fe2O3 from Port Hedland in Western Australia.

For the past 10 years, lithium brine or hard-rock projects starting from scratch would typically take up to eight years to come online and start production.

Although lithium spodumene prices have been softening as the months go on - as a result of China's decreasing lithium carbonate prices, which have been decreasing since November 2017 - the new lithium spodumene miners have shown resilience to the negative price trend.

Fastmarkets IM last assessed the lithium spodumene (min 5-6% Li2O) contract prices on a cif China basis at $750-850 per tonne on September 26, down from $850-925 per tonne last month, but up 110.5% from $350-410 per tonne in September 2016.

Strong lithium market demand fundamentals have sustained the new lithium spodumene production by pushing the new miners to speed up their response - after the likes of Tawana Resources, AMG Lithium and Altura Mining started production over the course of the past year.

Pilbara Minerals is on track with a stage 1 production ramp-up that started in June of this year and aim to produce 45,000 tonnes per year of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE).

Delivering this project from first drill-hole to first product-on-ship within four years is an outstanding result, which completes Pilbara Minerals’ elevation into the ranks of Australia’s mid-tier mining companies," Pilbara Minerals’ managing director and chief executive officer, Ken Brinsden said.

"This marks the start of regular product shipments as we continue to ramp-up Stage 1 to nameplate capacity and work toward a final investment decision on the Stage 2, 5Mtpy expansion," Brinsden said. "With strong support from our offtake partners and financiers, this expansion will position Pilbara Minerals to become one of the top-three lithium raw materials producers in the world by 2020."