Pilbara Minerals expects lithium spodumene output to return to normal in Q4

Australia’s Pilbara Minerals expects production and sales of lithium spodumene concentrate to return to full capacity in the fourth quarter of 2019 and has secured a new offtake agreement with the Chinese Great Wall Motor Co.

The company made the announcement on Tuesday July 9 after discussions with offtake partners Ganfeng Lithium and General Lithium.

On June 17, Pilbara Minerals said it would reduce output due to delays in the construction of chemical conversion capacity at Ganfeng Lithium and General Lithium.

And on July 9, Pilbara Minerals confirmed that will still shut down its plant for 14 days later in July to undertake work to further improve plant performance.

Despite the delays and shutdowns, Pilbara Minerals achieved a strong performance in the second quarter at its Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum project 120km from Port Hedland in Western Australia.

The company produced 62,334 tonnes of lithium spodumene concentrate min 6% in the quarter, up from 52,196 tonnes in the first quarter of the year.

Shipments were also higher quarter on quarter, with 43,214 tonnes of lithium spodumene moved out in April-June - in line with the company’s export guidance of 23,000-45,000 tonnes and up from the 38,562 tonnes shipped in January-March.

Sales for the third quarter are expected to be about 35,000-48,000 tonnes of lithium spodumene, and 65,000-80,000 tonnes in December quarter, Pilbara Minerals said.

The company expects to reach full plant production by October 1, 2019.

New offtake agreement
Deliveries under the new offtake agreement with Chinese Great Wall Motor Co will start on August 2019 at a rate of 20,000 tpy for the following six years.

Pilbara Minerals expects to supply 15,000-20,000 tonnes of lithium spodumene concentrate to Chinese Great Wall Motor Co through the second half of 2019.

Although the price agreed for this offtake was not specified, Fastmarkets latest assessment of the spodumene (minimum 5-6% Li2O) contract price was $585-650 per tonne on a cif China basis on Wednesday June 26, down from $600-670 per tonne on May 29.

Pilgangoora’s phase 1 production has a production target of 330,000 tonnes per year of lithium spodumene, min 6%, running from June 2018 to 2020. The second phase of expansion is set to start in the first quarter of 2020, aiming at increasing the company’s total output by as much as 850,000 tpy of lithium spodumene, min 6%.

Moving downstream
Pilbara Minerals and joint venture partner South Korea’s Posco are continuing to develop their chemical conversion plant in South Korea, which has a production capacity of 40,000 tonnes per year of lithium carbonate equivalent.

So far, 6,020 tonnes of lithium spodumene concentrate have been shipped to Posco’s large-scale pilot plant, with 2,993 tonnes of that exported in the second quarter of 2019.

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