Our 100% owned Pilgangoora Operation is located 120 km from Port Hedland in Western Australia’s resource-rich Pilbara region. The Pilgangoora ore body is one of the largest hard-rock lithium deposits in the world and is considered strategically important within the global lithium supply chain.
Located in one of the world’s premier mining jurisdictions, the Pilgangoora Operation has access to first-class supporting infrastructure, including road and port, and is underpinned by strong environmental and safety regulations, and social standards.
Our operation consists of two processing plants, the Pilgan Plant, which produces spodumene and tantalite concentrates, and the Ngungaju Plant, which produces a spodumene concentrate.
The processing plants were named by the Traditional Owners of the land, the Nyamal People, in recognition of their connection to the country on which the Pilgangoora Operation is located.
Having two processing plants provides Pilbara Minerals with speed to market by enabling us to rapidly increase production to satisfy rising lithium market demand.
While our operation continues to deliver a quality spodumene concentrate to market, we are pursuing a growth and diversification strategy to become a sustainable, low-cost lithium producer and a fully integrated battery materials supplier in the years to come.
Our 2 million tonne per annum (Mtpa) mining and processing operation produces approximately 360,000 to 380,000 tpa of spodumene concentrate. The Pilgan Plant also produces a tantalite concentrate as a by-product of this process. The processing facility consists of a heavy/dense media separation (DMS) circuit to produce a coarse concentrate and a flotation and gravity circuit to produce fines concentrate. Both the fines and coarse concentrate are blended to deliver a high quality, spodumene concentrate product to customers.
Work is underway to expand production by up to 100,000 tpa at the Pilgan Plant through the P680 Expansion Project . Once complete, this will increase the Pilgangoora Operations’ annual nameplate production capacity up to 640,000 to 680,000 tpa of spodumene concentrate.
In 2021, the Ngungaju Plant was acquired. Following its acquisition, a series of improvement works were undertaken to increase throughput and improve recoveries.
Ramp-up and optimisation of the Ngungaju Plant to nameplate production capacity of up to 180,000 to 200,000 tpa of spodumene concentrate was achieved in the September Quarter 2022.
Strategically positioned in Western Australia’s resource-rich Pilbara region, we continue to undertake exploration activities to grow our lithium Mineral Resources and Ore Reserves.
We have a consolidated position of tenure within the Pilgangoora pegmatite district and tenements within the Strelley, Tabba Tabba, and Wodgina districts that together form part of one of the largest rare-metal pegmatite provinces in the world.
Our exploration program is progressing multiple targets within this highly prospective portfolio and we continue to assess new project opportunities in the battery materials space.
The Pilgangoora pegmatite field was discovered in 1905 with alluvial tantalite recorded. Until 1975, the area was worked for alluvial tin and tantalite by various companies before larger scale eluvial operations took place. Exploration for rare metals and other commodities including gold and base metals had been undertaken by numerous companies, but it wasn’t until 2014 that the full potential for lithium was recognised.
We continue to undertake exploration drilling programs with the aim of upgrading and expanding the resource inventory for reserve consideration. The Pilgangoora Operation now hosts one of the world’s largest hard-rock lithium deposits and is recognised as one of the most important sources of lithium raw materials globally.
The acquisition of the Ngungaju Plant and associated tenure has opened immense exploration potential in the area. Being part of the same mineralised system, it provides the opportunity to potentially increase the Pilgangoora Operation’s Mineral Resource and Ore Reserve inventory. Much of the Pilgangoora Operation outside of the immediate mine area remains underexplored, providing potential for further resource growth in the coming years.
Resources and Reserves
A major resource development drilling program was undertaken from November 2022 to June 2023, which resulted in a 55 Mt increase in Ore Reserves for the Pilgangoora Operation, representing a 35% increase in total Proved and Probable Ore Reserve Tonnes.
The updated Ore Reserve extends the mine life of the Pilgangoora Operation from 30 June 2023 by approximately nine years, to ~34 years.
The June 2023 Mineral Resource statement which the Reserve was calculated from comprises a total of 413.8 Mt, grading 1.15% Li2O, 112ppm, Ta2O5 and 0.53% Fe2O3, containing 4.75 Mt of Li2O and 101.8 million pounds of Ta2O5.
Additional extension targets have been identified and will be further drill tested as part of the 2024 Financial Year drilling program.
More information about the Ore Reserve and Mineral Resource can be found on page 34 of the 2023 Annual Report.
We continue to invest heavily in our planned growth strategy with two expansion projects underway which will take nameplate production capacity to 1 Mtpa of spodumene concentrate.
The P680 Expansion Project (P680 Project) will increase production capacity of the Pilgan Plant by up to 100,000 tpa. Once operational, this will increase the Pilgangoora Operation’s total nameplate capacity to between 640,000 to 680,000 tpa.
Key construction activities underway include:
A primary rejection heavy media separation circuit (Primary Rejection) enabling rejection of low-grade waste material and providing an additional 100,000 tpa of spodumene concentrate production capacity.
An integrated crushing and ore sorting facility capable of processing up to 5 Mtpa of ore throughput and supporting further process improvements and concentrate quality.
First-ore was achieved from the primary rejection facility in October 2023 marking an important milestone in the ramp-up of the facility. Full capacity ramp up of the facility is targeted for the end of the December Quarter 2023.
Commissioning of the crushing and ore sorting facility is expected in the June Quarter 2024, with ramp-up scheduled during the September Quarter 2024.
The crushing and ore sorting facility will support potential future expansions of up to 1 Mtpa of spodumene concentrate production (P1000 Project).
The P1000 Expansion Project (P1000 Project) aims to increase total spodumene concentrate production capacity at the Pilgangoora Operation to up to 1 Mtpa. The project leverages the earlier investment in processing infrastructure to be delivered as part of the P680 Project.
The P1000 Project involves a series of upgrades to the Pilgan Plant’s concentrator and a range of supporting infrastructure. Once delivered and operational the Pilgangoora Operation will become the second largest producing hard-rock lithium mine in the world.
First ore is targeted in the March Quarter 2025 and full production following commissioning and ramp-up at the end of the September Quarter 2025.
Following a substantial resource upgrade in 2023, we have commenced a study to explore further potential expansions in production capacity at the Pilgangoora Operation beyond P1000.
We are spearheading a chemicals and diversification strategy to extract greater value along the battery materials supply chain.
Downstream Lithium Chemical Facility
In joint venture (JV) with POSCO, a 43,000 tpa Lithium Hydroxide Chemical Facility is under construction in Gwangyang, South Korea.
The JV places Pilbara Minerals and POSCO as one of the few near-term lithium chemicals producers outside of China, with raw materials supply committed from the Pilgangoora Operation. A 315,000 tpa of spodumene concentrate offtake agreement has been entered into with the JV company which will supply the facility on commercial terms once operational.
Construction of the facility is well advanced, with commissioning of the first train expected towards the end of 2023.
Mid-stream Demonstration Plant
The development of a Mid-stream Demonstration Plant on site at the Pilgangoora Operation was approved by our Board in August 2023. The project, to be delivered in joint venture with Australian environmental technology company, Calix Limited, will demonstrate the potential to reduce carbon emissions intensity for the hard-rock lithium supply chain.
Successful demonstration of the technology could enable production of a mid-stream lithium enriched product at the Pilgangoora Operation that has:
Increased lithium concentration (and potentially a higher value product)
Elimination of waste in the saleable product
Significantly reduced carbon intensity in the calcination stage if powered with renewable electricity.
We have a 55% interest in the JV (Calix 45%) and will oversee both the construction and operation of the project.
We will fund 79% of construction costs, with Calix contributing the remaining funds, and the Australian Government contributing $20M under the Modern Manufacturing Initiative.
Downstream partnering initiatives
Following the final investment decision for P1000, we launched a strategic partnering process to explore opportunities to partner in downstream lithium conversion using future unallocated spodumene concentrate.
The process will consider a range of potential proposals including possible joint ventures in downstream chemical facilities in mutually agreed locations which could be supported by offtake of up to 300,000 tpa of spodumene concentrate from the expanded Pilgangoora Operation.
We expect to engage with credible partners who show strong interest in exploring the potential of partnering downstream.
The Mt Francisco JV between Pilbara Minerals (70%) and Atlas Iron Limited (30%) is located 50km south-west of the Pilgangoora Project and hosts the last remaining large occurrence of outcropping pegmatites located in close proximity to Port Hedland.