• Pilbara Minerals eyes ‘game changer’ in lithium processing after approving $104.9m Calix JV mid-stream demo plant
  • Sayona ships first NAL Canadian lithium concentrate
  • Materials sector dips as Chinese manufacturing index disappoints

Lithium giant Pilbara Minerals (ASX:PLS) and kiln calcining extraordinaire Calix (ASX:CXL) have pushed the button and let us know they’re heading mid-stream with a demonstration plant that could greatly reduce the emissions intensity of processing spodumene into lithium chemicals.

Coming on the eve of the Diggers and Dealers Mining Forum in Kalgoorlie, the announcement marks the next step in the development of Pilbara into a downstream processing player as well as a spodumene miner.

Its first minority owned hydroxide plant is currently under construction in Gwangyang, South Korea, by long-time customer POSCO, while Pilbara is also seeking a JV partner for a larger refinery to convert 300,000tpa of spod from its expanded 1Mtpa.

The mid-stream demo plant will produce around 3000tpa of lithium phosphate once in full swing, and be funded via a $20 million grant from the Australian Government’s Modern Manufacturing Initiative along with a 79-21 contribution for the remainder comprising $67.4m from PLS and $17.5m from CXL for a total of $104.9m.

As indicated by the mid-stream title, the plant won’t go all the way to producing chemicals which can be put into a lithium ion battery in an electric vehicle.

What it does intend to find however is a way to reduce the emissions intensity of one of the most energy intensive steps of the LiB supply chain.

If the electric flash calciner can run on 100% renewables, PLS and CXL believe the CO2 equivalent emissions intensity of the calcination process can be reduced by over 80% compared to fossil fuel powered rotary kilns, a reduction of more than 3kg of CO2 per kilo of lithium hydroxide.


First salts by 2025

PLS says the first salts from the plant will emerge in June 2025, with steady state production expected by the March quarter of 2026.

It would then take another 12-18 months to establish the technical performance and commerciality of the mid-stream process.

It is not the only major spodumene producer considering similar processing steps.

While the PLS-CXL product will have an 18% lithia content, Mineral Resources (ASX:MIN) is now studying plans to deliver a 25-30% pure lithium sulphate in Australia for sale to EV makers in the US and Europe, citing technical challenges companies have seen delivering lithium hydroxide plants outside China.

That was highlighted again this week as IGO (ASX:IGO) revealed a massive drop in ramp up rates at the first Kwinana hydroxide train from its JV with Tianqi, where it only expects to hit half of its planned 24,000tpa run rate by the end of the year — seven years after construction was announced.

PLS MD Dale Henderson says the demo plant is the next step after the completion of pilot work with Calix, on a technology he says could be a ‘game changer’.

“The mid-stream strategy has the potential to materially improve the battery materials supply chain for lithium through reduction in carbon energy intensity, reduction in transport volumes and creating more value at the mine site,” he said.

“It has the potential to be a game changer compared to the traditional spodumene processing route.”

Calix MD Phil Hodgson said the company looked forward to “demonstrating the potential of our electric calcination technology to dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of Australian lithium”.


Pilbara Minerals (ASX:PLS) and Calix (ASX:CXL) share prices today:



Sayona eyes first revenue from Quebec lithium

All the focus is currently on the deal struck between Patriot Battery Metals (ASX:PMT) and Albemarle which could make the US giant a major player in the emerging Canadian lithium space.
But at the same time another ASX-listed company is on track to sell the first spodumene concentrate from the hot lithium province.

Sayona Mining (ASX:SYA) said today it had sent the first shipment from its 75% owned North American Lithium operation, selling 20,500t of “on-spec” spodumene concentrate on the AAL Moon vessel at prices linked to the Fastmarkets Spodumene spot price index, Fastmarkets lithium hydroxide spot and Shanghai Metals Market battery grade hydroxide spot.

6% Li20 spodumene was paying US$3550/t into Asia according to today’s Fastmarkets price list, though North Asia hydroxide prices fell $1000 to US$39,250/t.

The next 30,000t is expected to be sent over the next two months to 25% owner Piedmont (ASX:PLL) as part of an offtake agreement with its roots in the start of the lithium revival in early 2021.

PLL will be entitled to 113,000t or 50% of spodumene production each calendar year from NAL, and is expected to receive 56,500t of concentrate in the December half.

Around the same should be sold to other customers. Longer term, Sayona plans to turn NAL into a downstream processing venture, fulfilling obligations under its agreement with the Quebec government.

“This first shipment is another significant milestone as we fast‐track production at North America’s key source of hard rock lithium. I would like to congratulate
the NAL team as we continue to advance Québec’s role as a critical supplier of lithium from hard rock sources to the battery materials sector,” Sayona’s MD Brett Lynch said.

“We are particularly pleased to make this first shipment in less than two years since NAL’s acquisition in August 2021, reflecting the team’s strong execution capabilities and commitment.

“With our recent study showing the outstanding value of downstream processing at NAL, we look forward to developing a vertically integrated operation and facilitating the ongoing development of a North American supply chain for this key 21st Century mineral.”

While there were small wins across the large cap resources space this morning, the weakest Caixin PMI in six months cruelled a rally in base metals and iron ore, with factory activity in China’s small manufacturing enterprises at a July level of 49.2. Anything under 50 is negative growth.

That saw copper prices fall 2.3% to US$8631/t, while iron ore shaved slightly to US$106.40/t.

The materials sector sagged 0.56%, with weaker gold prices also playing on investors’ minds.


Ground Breakers share prices today: