The PFS assumes a standalone chemical plant in North Carolina that would convert spodumene concentrate purchased on the global market to battery-grade lithium.
PLL has explored two development options for its US lithium project with the PFS for the Merchant project as well as an updated scoping study for its integrated mine-to-hydroxide project.
The integrated project which comprises a mine/concentrator that would produce spodumene concentrate to be converted to battery-grade lithium hydroxide at a chemical plant.
President and chief executive officer Keith Phillips said: “The Chemical Plant PFS demonstrates the economic benefit of developing a lithium chemical business in North Carolina, USA, with its exceptional infrastructure, low operating costs and competitive tax regime.”
The PFS estimates the capital cost to construct the chemical plant at US$292 million and the capital cost to construct the mine/concentrator at US$106.2 million, excluding contingency, land expenses, owner’s costs, and working capital.
Post-tax NPV8 for the Merchant project is estimated at US$714 million with a post-tax IRR of 26%, while in comparison the integrated project has a post-tax NPV8 of US$1.1 billion and post-tax IRR of 26%.
Benchmark Minerals Intelligence forecasts a modest price recovery for spodumene concentrate beginning in 2023 before settling to a long-term price of $564/tonne and forecasts lithium hydroxide prices will recover in 2023 before settling to a long-term incentive price of US$12,910/tonne.
Piedmont has assumed an average lithium hydroxide cash costs of US$3,716 per tonne and spodumene concentrate cash costs of US$201 per tonne for the integrated project.
For the Merchant project, the average lithium hydroxide cash costs are US$6,689 per tonne, assuming an average life-of-project spodumene concentrate cost of US$651/tonne delivered to the chemical plant.
Isometric depiction of Piedmont’s 22,720 tonnes per year Lithium Hydroxide Chemical Plant.
Spodumene concentrate supply
The scoping study includes a steady-state 22,720 tonnes per year lithium hydroxide chemical plant supported by a mine/concentrator producing 160,000 tonnes per year of 6% lithium oxide spodumene concentrate.
In comparison, the Chemical Plant PFS features a lithium hydroxide conversion plant to be supplied by spodumene concentrate purchased on the global market, rather than by Piedmont’s own mine/concentrator.
The Merchant project would provide the growing number of spodumene concentrate producers in Australia, North America, South America, Europe and Africa an alternative non-Chinese processing route for their material for the first time.
The company is engaged in preliminary discussions with several current spodumene concentrate producers in Australia, as well as engaged with projects under development in South America and Europe which could be potential suppliers to the Merchant project.
The Merchant project would provide US and European automotive companies a secure and independent American source of the lithium hydroxide required for their supply chains.
Phillips said: “80% of the world’s lithium hydroxide is produced in China, largely by non-integrated ‘merchant’ producers sourcing spodumene concentrate from Western Australia.
“As global automotive companies electrify their fleets, we expect them to increasingly seek ex-China sources of lithium supply and North Carolina is ideally positioned to benefit given its proximity to major auto markets in the US and Europe, and the deep lithium talent pool resident in the region.”
Piedmont Chemical Plant Site south of Kings Mountain, North Carolina
Piedmont is focused on establishing strategic partnerships with customers for battery-grade lithium hydroxide with emphasis on a customer base which is focused on EV demand growth in North America and Europe.
Piedmont has engaged in extensive confidential discussions with Japanese and Korean battery makers with announced expansion plans into the US market.
Additional conversations with global car manufacturers with US-based electric vehicle assembly capability have also been initiated.
Initial samples from the company’s lithium hydroxide bench-scale test-work program will be delivered to prospective customers with the company planning to enhance its sales and marketing capability through recruitment of marketing leadership positions in the coming months.
The company plans to undertake further optimisation of both studies in the definitive feasibility study.
Phillips said: “Piedmont will now advance the chemical plant through the permitting and definitive feasibility processes, providing us the option to move aggressively on either a merchant or integrated basis toward first lithium production in 2023 as the transition to electric vehicles begins to seriously take hold.”