Pilbara Minerals targets ‘mid-stream’ lithium salts production

Pilbara Minerals is targeting “mid-stream” lithium salts production to achieve a greener and better supply chain, Dale Henderson, the Australia-listed lithium miner’s chief operating officer, said during an investor meeting on Tuesday May 11.

Prior to the meeting on Tuesday, the miner announced that it would work with Sydney-based technology company Calix Limited on a scoping study on a new refining process that would likely pave the way for it to produce concentrated lithium salt from its Pilgangoora project.

Henderson told the investors that the company was driven by two factors: downstream demand, namely the booming electric vehicle (EV) market; and the need to reduce carbon emissions.

“The lithium industry is different from many other industries - it gets a special position and it is growing, Henderson said.

As such, he said this was a chance for Pilbara Minerals to pick out a solution from the asset and grow it into a new pathway, he said.

Existing spodumene supply chains are incredibly energy-intensive, since heat treatment and the calcination process via convertors requires a lot of energy in terms of carbon and fuel, he further explained.

In addition, he pointed out that in shipping spodumene to buyers, one does not just transport the 6% of lithium contained within it, but also other elements, including alumina and silica, which make up the remaining 90% or so. This inevitably creates a bigger carbon footprint from freight.

In contrast, the big difference of the alternative supply chain that Pilbara Minerals is targeting takes the front of chemical conversion process and bring it to the mining side by employing a smarter process, which the miner and Calix are working on.

“At the mine, if we can efficiently calcine a lower-grade spodumene concentrate, we should also be able to achieve a higher recovery from the ore body, meaning less mine wastage and lower cost. The opportunity to produce a higher-value product in Australia should also allow us to capture more of the overall value in the new-energy industry as it develops,” Ken Brinsden, Pilbara Minerals’ managing director and chief executive officer, said earlier in the announcement on Tuesday.

He later pointed out at the investor meeting that Pilbara Minerals’ “mid-stream” strategy was also in line with its climate-change strategy and that it was critical to change the carbon footprint in lithium production.

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