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Pilbara Minerals and POSCO move a step closer to lithium chemical production JV

The Pilbara Minerals Board has conditionally exercised its option to enter into an incorporated joint venture with POSCO (for up to 30% participation) for the development of a downstream lithium chemical conversion facility in South Korea.

Pilbara Minerals’ Managing Director and CEO, Ken Brinsden, said the company’s relationship with POSCO had developed over the last year as it has continued to work through the Pilgangoora lithium project joint venture.

“It has been really pleasing to see the positive results generated by the due diligence work to date. The significant investment by POSCO into their PosLX technology has paid off and they have proven their ability to produce an industry leading, battery-ready lithium product through their innovative lithium purification process,” he said.

On October 2, 2018, Pilbara Minerals produced its first spodumene concentrate shipment from Pilgangoora. A total of 8,800 t (wet) of spodumene concentrate grading approximately 6.1% lithia and 1.2% Fe2O3 set sail from Port Hedland bound for the company’s offtake partners in north Asia.

The company’s agreement with POSCO encompasses long-term offtake, funding and the downstream conversion plant joint venture opportunity.

Brinsden said the rapid growth in lithium chemicals consumption in South Korea could see the country’s battery manufacturing sector supply around 25% of worldwide capacity by 2028, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.

The downstream lithium facility, to be located in the Gwangyang Free Economic Zone in South Korea, would have up to 40,000 t/y of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) capacity and process spodumene from Pilgangoora using POSCO’s patented PosLX purification process.

Since the December quarter, Pilbara Minerals has been undertaking technical due diligence to assess the proposed chemical plant development and work to date has delivered promising results, it said.

“Due diligence has included a visit of technical staff and assessment of POSCO’s existing commercial operations plant using their PosLX technology, based on Pilbara Minerals’ spodumene delivered from the Pilgangoora project,” Pilbara Minerals said.

POSCO has developed its first commercial-scale operation (after the initial development of a pilot scale plant) that produces up to 2,500 t/y of lithium chemicals on an LCE basis, according to Pilbara Minerals. Based on spodumene chemical conversion, the plant has the capacity and flexibility to produce both high grade lithium hydroxide, or, alternately, lithium carbonate products with low impurities in the final products produced.

Pilbara Minerals said: “The battery grade lithium hydroxide produced has to date been tested by major South Korean cathode makers and has passed their qualification process.”

Once a number of conditions surrounding the deal are complete, they will be put to the Board of Pilbara Minerals for a final decision and commitment to the joint development in mid- to late-May 2019. The parties would then aim to complete construction of the chemical conversion plant in late 2020 with commencement of ramp-up and production from early 2021.