Mining services contractor MACA has won the open pit mining contract for the development of the Pilbara Minerals’ massive Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum project, one of the largest hard-rock lithium projects in the world.

MACA (ASX: MLD) will carry out open pit mining services including drilling and blasting, loading and hauling at the Western Australian project with work set to begin in November.

The contract, for an undisclosed sum,  will use both new and existing plant and equipment and is based on a mining rate of around 8 million tonnes per annum for the production of 2 million tonnes per annum of ore.

The duration of the initial contract is for two years with three, one-year options to extend the contract.

MACA is an ASX publicly listed, integrated mining services contractor with operations spanning Australia and South America.

Key current open pit mining contracts in Western Australia include Ramelius Resources’ Mount Magnet gold mine, Regis Resources’ Rosemont, Garden Well and Moolart Well operations and Atlas Iron’s Abydos project.

The award of the Stage 1 open pit mining contract follows the award of other key contracts for bulk civil earthworks, camp expansion and camp services in July.

Pilbara Minerals (ASX: PLM) managing director Ken Brinsden said the award of the open pit mining contract was a key milestone for the project, as site-based activities continued to ramp-up on several fronts.

“The site is already a hive of activity, and this will only continue to increase in the coming weeks following the award of this pivotal contract as the MACA mining team begin to mobilise to site,” he said.

“This contract will employ around 70 personnel and will require the mobilisation of an extensive mining fleet comprising two hydraulic excavators, seven large capacity haulage trucks, drill rigs and numerous items of support equipment. “

The Pilgangoora project, located 120km from Port Hedland, is regarded as one of the biggest new lithium ore deposits in the world, with a globally significant hard rock spodumene resource. Spodumene is a source of high purity lithium.

The latest Mineral Resource update comprises a Measured, Indicated and Inferred Resource of 128.6 million tonnes grading 1.22% Li2O (spodumene) and 138ppm Ta2O(tantalum) containing 1.57 million tonnes of lithium oxide and 39 million pounds of Ta2O5.

Mine construction is anticipated to generate 300 jobs. Production is expected to start in the first quarter of 2018.

Shares in MACA were up 1 per cent to $1.95 in morning trade while Pilbara Minerals gained 4 per cent to 40.7c.