To keep up with increasing demand for lithium and to reduce its carbon footprint, the Australian government has decided to invest US$15 million (AU$20 million) in a lithium project for the first time.
The investment will be made by the government’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which took part in Perth-based Pilbara Minerals’ (ASX:PLS) recently completed US$100-million (AU$132 million) bond issue. The money will be put toward the company’s Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum project.
Pilbara plans to develop the project in phases, and has said that the first stage will cost a total of AU$234 million. Ultimately Pilgangoora will produce lithium concentrate, a key component in lithium-ion batteries.
“Lithium is a vital component used in battery storage, which helps to support Australia’s increasing use of renewable energy,” Australian Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said in a statement.
Lithium-ion batteries are used to power electric vehicles. According to UBS (NYSE:UBS), electric vehicle sales will jump to 3.1 million units by 2021 from 2 million in 2016, and are expected to reach 14.2 million units by 2025.
The resulting demand for lithium-ion batteries will push the need for lithium higher in the coming years. Lithium-focused companies are keen to put mines into production to meet that demand, but are struggling to move quickly enough. The Australian government’s move aims to tackle that constraint.
“The lithium concentrate supplies to be produced by this project will help build Australia’s capacity to supply much needed resources for the clean energy technologies that are set to play a vital role in increasing the use of renewables in our future energy mix,” Frydenberg added.
Ken Brinsden, managing director at Pilbara Minerals, said that construction at Pilgangoora is scheduled to start in early 2018. The mine is slated to initially produce 2 million tonnes of ore per year, with first concentrate shipments scheduled for Q2 2018.
“[Lithium] concentrate will be exported from Port Hedland, predominantly to China under existing off-take agreements for processing into lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide for a wide range of lithium products,” he said.
Citi (NYSE:C) analysts estimate that once Pilgangoora is running at full capacity, it will represent about 11 percent of global lithium supply. Last year, Australia was the top lithium-producing country, according to the US Geological Survey, with total output of 14.3 million MT of lithium content.
Pilbara’s share price has gained 2.74 percent since the announcement on Tuesday (June 27), and is currently trading at A$0.37.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Priscila Barrera, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.