Downstream bottleneck leads Pilbara Minerals to limit production

Pilbara Minerals has reported record monthly production at its Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum project in Western Australia, but says that it won’t be repeating recent successes due to bottlenecks in developing processing facilities in China.In May, Pilgangoora produced 22,375 dry metric tonnes of spodumene concentrate, representing around 85 % of its planned Stage 1 plant capacity, with full capacity projected to be 330,000 t/a (or roughly 27,5000 t per month).

However, Pilbara Minerals’ major offtake customers for Stage 1, China’s General Lithium and Ganfeng Lithium, have been taking longer than expected to construct, commission and ramp up new chemical conversion facilities in China. The delays in General Lithium and Ganfeng Lithium’s work mean that Pilbara needs to limit production to avoid forcing too much lithium through what’s effectively a bottleneck. “These delays in the development of new chemical conversion capacity by Pilbara Minerals’ Stage 1 customers has resulted in lower shipped tonnes from the Pilgangoora project during the June quarter, which are currently estimated to be in the range of 23 to 45 kt shipped, pending the departure dates for the remaining vessel(s) in the month of June,” said the company. Pilbara Minerals is projecting spodumene concentrate production of between 20,000 and 24,000 t in June. It believes that underlying demand for battery-ready lithium chemicals remains strong. Production numbers are dependent on a six-day shutdown of the concentrator on site, during which the company will perform works to improve recoveries. The shutdown is currently taking place. A second shutdown will happen in July for more improvement works. Pilgangoora has been developing at a rapid pace, with its first spodumene concentrate shipped in October last year and its official opening in November. Pilbara Minerals has also been weighing up the potential for a Stage 3 expansion due to customer demand. Stage 3 would see the project’s production increased dramatically. (Investing News Network, June 17, 2019)