Australian lithium producer Pilbara Minerals (ASX:PLS) has officially taken back its position as the world’s most extensive hard-rock lithium operation. This comes after they announced a 39% increase in the mineral resource at its 100%-owned Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum project in Western Australia’s Pilbara region to 308.9 million tonnes.
The updated mineral resource replaced the 2020 June estimate and now “comprises 308.9 million tonnes grading 1.14% lithium oxide and 105 ppm tantalum pentoxide, containing 3.5 million tonnes of lithium and 71.7 million pounds of tantalum, respectively.”
2021 exploration results and the development drilling campaign next to the historical Altura tenement boundary were included in the updated mineral resource, along with the “integration of the mineral resource for the former Altura lithium operations acquired earlier this year.”
The Pilgangoora lithium project is the largest independent hard-rock lithium operation that produces a spodumene and tantalite concentrate.
Pilbara also has announced future plans for the newly updated mineral resource. With additional resources defined from the 2021 exploration, this would allow the mining envelope and pit inventory of the combined South Pit areas to expand, resulting in potential further growth without having to stop drilling.
CEO Ken Brinsden said in a media statement, “This landmark resource upgrade is another clear indication of Pilgangoora’s position as the world’s premier hard rock lithium asset. The scale of the endowment is quite remarkable, with the integration of the adjoining Ngungaju resource, combined with highly successful development and drilling programs, taking our resource inventory well and truly to the next level.”
Alongside this potential growth and expansion, the company says the updated mineral resource will introduce a new ore reserve estimate for Pilgangoora, expecting completion of the new ore in October of this year.
“We are looking forward to completing an updated Ore Reserve next month that will underpin operations for many decades to come. Against the backdrop of surging global demand for lithium raw materials, Pilgangoora is incredibly well-positioned to play a pivotal role in the accelerating global energy transformation,” Brinsden concluded.
“Meanwhile, Mineral Resources (MRL) has exited its 5.4% shareholding in Pilbara Minerals Ltd, raising gross pre-tax proceeds of about A$328 million ($259m).”
Other than the Pilgangoora operation, Pilbara also has the Mt Francisco JV project, which they own 70% of and Atlas Iron Limited owns 30%. It is located 50km southwest of the Pilgangoora project and is home to the last remaining large occurrence of outcropping pegmatites located in close proximity to Port Hedland.
In 2018, drilling at the Mt Francisco operation uncovered multiple pegmatites ranging in thickness up to 30m, some of which have returned elevated levels of tin, tantalum, and lithium. According to the company, only a small section of Mt Francisco has been drilled, with numerous geological and surface geochemical targets remaining untested.