West Australia has been pushing to become a battery metals hub — and while all the buzz appears to be around Perth, one minister thinks the Pilbara could be a strong contender.

WA’s regional development minister Alannah MacTiernan says the Pilbara has an abundance of lithium, and while it would be a challenge to establish a processing hub in the region, she wants to “keep alive the dream”.

“There’s some people that would argue that that is possibly too difficult,” Ms MacTiernan told an industry event in Perth on Tuesday.

“We certainly know as a State we are absolutely determined to go through the refining, the electrochemical process and battery cell production.

“We believe that there is no reason why as a State that we cannot move through that given we’ve got absolutely every element of that supply chain.

“The question is where do we do it? Is there going to be the capability of doing this in the Pilbara, will it all be in Kwinana [a city just south of Perth] or Kemerton? We still want to keep alive the dream that in fact we may be able to do that also in the Pilbara.”

Lithium projects in the Pilbara. Pic: Monax Mining.
Lithium projects in the Pilbara. Pic: Monax Mining.

In July the WA government released a comprehensive report backing the establishment of a “Lithium Valley”, with locations like Kwinana favoured.

WA is one of the world’s largest lithium producers. The State has five operating lithium mines, two under construction and one undergoing planning approvals.

Pilbara Minerals (ASX:PLS) and Altura Mining (ASX:AJM) have both recently brought their respective lithium mines into production.

Processing will add substantial value to the state’s lithium industry with increases in the value of the products shipped overseas, job creation and increased expertise, according to the government.

The Pilbara currently accounts for 14 per cent of WA’s gross state product and 28 per cent of Australia’s mineral and energy exports.

There are about 63,000 jobs in the Pilbara and 60 per cent of them are in mining.

Another ‘string to the Pilbara bow’

Ms MacTiernan says the Pilbara “is really lifting again”.

“We’ve had a few really lean years, but really we are seeing again a real growth spurt,” she said.

And that is due to expansions by the iron ore majors as well as the “21st Century Gold Rush”.

Artemis Resources (ASX:ARV) and its Canadian partner Novo Resources ignited a new gold rush in the Pilbara when they uncovered what was described as “watermelon seed nuggets” south of Karratha in July last year.

“Last time we did a pitch about the Pilbara we were talking about the notion of gold, but in the meantime what we’ve really seen is that there is actual gold,” Ms MacTiernan said.

“The traditional old gold is now becoming a new string to the Pilbara bow.”

The minister pointed to Capricorn Metals’ (ASX:CMM) Karlawinda project near Newman, which is reaching final site approvals and is expected to produce 823,000 ounces of gold over 8.5 years.

“When you consider gold is over $US1000 an ounce, that’s a pretty attractive operation,” Ms MacTiernan said.