Precious metal miner Sibanye-Stillwater (NYSE:SBSW) has bought a 50% stake in the pioneer Ltd. Rhyolite Ridge mine in Nevada. The lithium-boron project has the potential to become the largest lithium mine in the US, according to Sibanye’s CEO.
This is Sibanyes’ third investment this year, after Eramet acquired a 30% stake in the Cone Lithium mine in Finland and Eramet’s purchase of a nickel processing plant in Normandy. The deal, one of the largest lithium deals in the US, and comes amid growing concerns about more investment as demand for the metal outstrips supply and efforts to combat climate change could be delayed. The companies say they will form a joint venture to develop Rhyolite Ridge lithium mine 355 km north of Las Vegas.
ioneer will remain the operator of the project, leveraging Sibanye’s (NYSE:SBSW) experience as the world’s largest platinum group metals (PGM) miner to develop the project. Silbanye-Stillwater has agreed to underwrite a strategic placement of new common shares of Ioneer for $70 million, representing 7.1% of the share capital after the placement.
The miner said it had already begun securing debt financing to finance the remainder of the $850 million project. According to the company, the full funding and necessary permits are expected by the end of next year and the project is expected to start by the end of 2024. This would bring a critical project online at just the right moment with rising prices and a lack of supply converging into some of the most favourable conditions for lithium miners in history.
Sibanye-Stillwater chief executive Neal Froneman, commented: “Rhyolite Ridge is a world-class lithium project and we recognize its strategic value, with the potential to become the largest lithium mine in the US,”
Once operational, the Nevada mine is expected to produce 2,200 tons of lithium hydroxide, which is used in most Tesla batteries and will fuel the electric vehicle boom for other automakers as well.
Auto giants such a Volkswagen Group, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW all have plans to develop their electric vehicle lines further. The need for high-density batteries is one of the critical points of concern for the supply chain, and miners will be a large part of stabilizing supply.
The deal also includes the rights for ioneer to expand operations at nearby lithium deposits, in which case the company has the option to pay an additional $50 million to secure a 50% interest in the project. The project is at an advanced stage and is the largest and most durable lithium project near Tesla’s Gigafactory in the nearby Port of California. The proximity of the project to the Gigafactory and the battery production facilities housed there is a good setup for simple infrastructure and distribution in the future.
The proposed mine is intended to boost local lithium supplies to U.S. automakers and battery manufacturers. In June, ioneer signed an agreement to supply lithium carbonate units to South Korean battery manufacturer Ecopro. This is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg for the sector as it is heating up quickly with new deals announced regularly and M&A a pivotal part of many lithium miners’ strategies.