A small patch of the iron-ore rich outback in the north of Western Australia has become ground zero in the global scramble for lithium. Here, work is accelerating to deliver the world’s next major mines to feed the soaring demand for the metal from electric car battery makers.
Almost 60 per cent of supply from planned large projects through about the next five years will be added in Australia, enabling the country – already the world’s biggest supplier of lithium – to cement its grip on the market, according to CRU Group.
The biggest mines due to enter production next year are both about 120 kilometres from Port Hedland, the gateway to markets in China.Altura Mining, which expects to start output in the first three months of 2018, is on schedule and already studying a rapid expansion to more than double capacity, according to Managing Director James Brown.
Next door, Pilbara Minerals is targeting a second-quarter start at a site with capacity to become the world’s second-largest hard rock lithium mine.
Along with nearby Mineral Resources’s Wodgina mine — the biggest known hard rock lithium deposit — these and other projects form an emerging cluster of global production, according to Altura’s Brown. “The Pilbara will be the most significant supplier” to Asia, he said in an interview. The region “does lend itself to becoming a hub, probably the size of which the world hasn’t seen,” he said.