Chinese battery manufacturers Lionergy, Jianxi Ganfeng Lithium Co and General Lithium are expected to receive their first shipments of lithium from Altura Mining and Pilbara Minerals within weeks, after both miners achieved first production at their Western Australian operations.
Altura announced to the ASX that its milestone of first production at came after 16 months of construction and commissioning at its Pilbara mine, which is in the Pilgangoora area, an emerging lithium province with several new mining operations.
On-site testing by laboratory operator Intertek indicated the concentrate produced exceeded industry benchmark specifications and satisfied Altura’s offtake obligations.
First delivery of spodumene concentrate, which will be processed in China by Lionergy to become lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE), a key ingredient in lithium-ion battery manufacturing, will occur during a shipping window next month, Altura said.
Lionergy, which has been involved in the Chinese energy industry for more than two decades, said it would like to receive as much as possible of the 100,000 tonne per annum minimum supply allocation under its offtake agreement with Altura.
Lionergy is planning to undertake large-scale lithium carbonate conversion testing, with the outputs used to verify its processing facility located in Chaha Youyi Houqi in Mongolia.
The first stage of Lionergy’s plant will have a capacity of 120,000 tonnes per annum, which would produce around 15,000tpa of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE).
A second stage is expected to have a conversion capacity of 240,000tpa of spodumene concentrate.
Altura’s production capacity, which it expects to reach towards the end of the year, is for 220,000 tonnes per annum of 6 per cent spodumene concentrate.
The company is evaluating plans to duplicate its processing plant to produce 440,000tpa.
“We have always worked to a stringent and aggressive timetable with this project,” Altura managing director James Brown said.
“As with any development, there are obstacles which occur, however, the entire team has worked tirelessly to be in the position we are in today, where we are in sight of delivering our first shipment of concentrate.
“Our focus now is to ramp up production to full capacity over the coming six months and then we can turn our attention to the expansion project.”
Altura’s shipping timetable would put the company on par with its Pilgangoora neighbour, Pilbara Minerals, which is produced its first coarse concentrates this week.
In an update to the market, Pilbara Minerals said its Pilgangoora operation remained on track to deliver its first shipment to offtake partners Ganfeng Lithium and General Lithium next month.
Ganfeng has agreed to take 160,000tpa of spodumene concentrate from the first phase of production at Pilgangoora, while General Lithium’s offtake agreement is for 140,000tpa.
Pilbara Minerals said its processing facility had been consistent with its expectations, with around 1,000 tonnes of concentrate having been produced.
Altura and Pilbara Minerals are responding to soaring demand for lithium concentrates, with orldwide consumption of LCE reaching more than 240,000 tonnes in 2017, with around 60 per cent going to the battery market.
Forecasts indicate that the expanded take-up of lithium-ion battery-powered electric vehicles, particularly in China, and lithium-ion battery-based energy storage systems would increase global to up to 1 million tonnes of LCE by as early as 2025.