A $20 million Australian Government grant has been awarded to Pilbara Minerals, and project partner Calix, for the Pilgangoora Project.

The grant funding was awarded under the Modern Manufacturing Initiative (MMI) and Manufacturing Translation Stream.

Grant funding will be used as part of a Joint Venture to be entered into between Pilbara Minerals and Calix for the progression of a demonstration scale chemicals facility at the Pilgangoora Project (Mid-Stream Project), with the aim of producing lithium salts for global distribution via an innovative midstream ‘value-added’ refining process.

The MMI grant represents a significant step forward in the progression of the Mid-Stream Project, which will be used as part of a proposed Joint Venture to be entered between the parties to support the design, procurement, construction, and commissioning of the MidStream Project Demonstration Plant (Demonstration Plant).

The MMI grant will assist the Mid-Stream Project in its efforts to deliver significant benefits across the industry including:

  • Increased downstream ‘value-add’ realisation within the Australian economy
  • Significant sustainability benefits across the lithium industry via electrification of the ‘value-added’ process (including spodumene calcining), thereby enabling a decarbonisation pathway, as well as rationalisation of the carbon footprint via reduced waste movements across transport and logistics supply chains from a near zero-waste final product
  • Maximising Australian hard-rock lithium resources via improved lithium recovery, as the innovative refining process should enable treatment of very fine spodumene concentrates at lower lithia grades, which have traditionally been problematic for calcination in conventional direct-fired horizontal rotary calciners.

Pilbara Minerals and Calix are well progressed in negotiations in relation to the formation of a Joint Venture for the future development of a small-scale Demonstration Plant, with the parties targeting to sign in early Q3 2022.

Mid-Stream Project

Following execution of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in May 2021 between Pilbara Minerals and Calix, a scoping study (Scoping Study) has recently been completed by Lycopodium Minerals in conjunction with the Pilbara Minerals and Calix teams.

The purpose of the Scoping Study was to assess the technical viability of developing a demonstration scale chemicals facility at the Pilgangoora Project to produce lithium salts from fines flotation spodumene concentrate produced at the Pilgangoora Project, thereby supporting a potential pathway towards future commercial production of ‘value-added’ lithium products at the Pilgangoora Project and globally.

The lithium-ion battery supply market is rapidly evolving with large-scale development occurring through all segments of the supply chain. Several prominent themes are shaping the industry including product cost, product quality, carbon energy reduction and waste management, particularly for the European market.

The objective of the Mid-Stream Project is to deliver a superior ‘value-added’ lithium raw material that outperforms across the key metrics of product cost, quality, carbon energy reduction and waste reduction/handling.

Works undertaken to date have explored alternative solutions to achieve these aims, including reviewing and testing alternate process paths, equipment selection and end product types. The Scoping Study supported the technical viability of the Mid-Stream Project at a Scoping Study level to deploy an innovative calcination technology owned by Calix which is proposed to be integrated into a chemical concentration process at the Pilgangoora Project to produce a new end product, with the current focus being a lithium phosphate salt as a key ‘value-added’ product for global distribution.

Pilbara Minerals’ Managing Director and CEO, Ken Brinsden, said, “Pilbara Minerals is very pleased to be able to access the Australian Government’s MMI grant funding, representing key backing for technology that we believe represents a giant leap forward for the hard-rock lithium raw materials supply chain.

“The Mid-Stream Project is expected to facilitate waste minimisation in key end-use markets, which decarbonises the hard-rock lithium supply chain and creates competitive ‘value-added’ products that can serve global markets directly. We are pleased to be partnered with Calix and their fantastic team, to build-on the technology and ultimately market it around the world.”

Calix’s Managing Director, Phil Hodgson, said, “We are very grateful for this $20 million grant to assist our lithium salt Demonstration Project with Pilbara Minerals under the Federal Government’s Manufacturing Modernisation Initiative.

“This world-first project aims to develop a low carbon process for lithium salt production into a rapidly growing market that is increasingly demanding more sustainable practices. The Calix and Pilbara Minerals teams are working very well together on this joint development and we look forward to progressing this important technology.”

Next Steps

Parties are targeting to finalise and execute the formal Joint Venture Agreement by early Q3 2022, with a final investment decision on the project to be decided late 2022 / early 2023. The parties will liaise with the Australian Government to finalise the execution of the MMI grant funding.

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