Western Australian Lithium Miners in right Spot at Right Time

THE CONFERENCE CALLER: The Western Australian lithium industry has always been healthy and according to Tianqi Lithium Australia general manager Phil Thick it’s going to get healthier.

Presenting to the first day crowd at the Low Emissions and Technology Minerals Conference in Perth, Thick reminded the audience of WA lithium’s current global standing.

“Until last year a third of the world’s lithium came out of Western Australia,” he said.

“All of that lithium came out of one mine – the Talisman mine at Greenbushes.

“So, we already have a dominant position in the world.”

Thick informed the room that over the past year or so there has been, in Western Australia, other miners that have commenced exporting both raw spodumene rock and spodumene concentrate.

“If we add up the announced, potential production of all of the West Australian ASX-listed companies it comes to somewhere between three and four million tonnes per annum of spodumene concentrate,” he said.

“If we convert all of that into lithium carbonate equivalent – it is about two and a half times what the world is currently using.”

Thick tossed up a couple of disclaimers, including the time frame that it will take these projects to get into production and their combined ability to meet the growing global demand, which he expects to grow considerably over the next couple of years.

He mentioned there were already a small number of WA lithium miners that are making noises regarding moving into the downstream processing realm.

“We could do what we do very well in Western Australia, which is to dig the rocks out of the ground and send it all to China for them to process and add value,” he said.

“That is what has happened to date with all the lithium that comes out of Greenbushes.

“Or, we could move further down the stream, and it wold be great to have three or four companies in this state all processing their spodumene rock into something that is of significantly higher value.”

Thick’s company, Tianqi Lithium Australia is already doing this, at its refinery in Kwinana, which is the site of BHP Nickel West’s proposed expansion.

He said that over the course of the two-day conference delegates could expect to hear plenty of discussion about the emerging Electric Vehicle market and the effect it has had on the lithium market, especially in the past 12 months.

“Twelve months ago, there was a lot of speculation and there wasn’t much fact built into what lithium demand was going to do over the next ten years,” he said.

“In the past six months, just about every significant car manufacturer outside of China has come forward with some pretty hard numbers around what they are going to be doing between now and 2025, in terms of electric vehicle manufacture.”

Given there were around one million EVs on global roads last year, which equates to approximately one per cent of the world car footprint, China’s announcement that intends producing EVs doubling that number pumping out two million on its own by 2020, the global analytical outlook for lithium is, understandably, bullish.

Thick said we could expect a 15 per cent lift in year on year growth in lithium sales between now and 2025.

“There is plenty of lithium resources around the world, and Western Australia hasa more than its fair share of it,” he said.“But the next big gap, over the next five years, will be in lithium processing.

“There are a number of projects…that are underway at the moment, but the sum of everything underway at the moment, will go nowhere near meeting the global demand for lithium hydroxide and lithium carbonate over the next few years.”