Piedmont Lithium (NASDAQ: PLL; ASX: PLL), which in September signed a deal to supply Tesla with high-purity lithium, has boosted the resources at its flagship Piedmont Lithium project in the U.S. by 40%.
The 100%-owned project is an integrated spodumene-to-lithium hydroxide project about 40 km west of Charlotte in North Carolina.
Indicated resources measure 21.6 million tonnes grading 1.12% lithium oxide (Li2O) for 241,000 tonnes of Li2O (597,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE)). Inferred resources add 17.6 million tonnes grading 1.03% Li2O for 181,000 tonnes of Li2O (449,000 tonnes of LCE).
“Increasing the scale of our [total] North Carolina mineral resource to 39.2 million tonnes at 1.09% Li2O establishes our asset as one of the largest spodumene resources in North America – and the only in the United States,” Keith Phillips, Piedmont’s president and CEO, stated in a news release.
The Australian junior recently completed a US$123 million financing.
Under its initial five-year agreement with Tesla, Piedmont will provide the electric vehicle maker with about a third of its planned 160,000-tonne-per-year spodumene concentrate from its lithium deposits in North Carolina. Both companies can then extend the contract for another five years. The agreement is conditional upon both companies agreeing to start deliveries of spodumene concentrate between July 2022 and July 2023.
Piedmont started a definitive feasibility study (DFS) for its lithium project in December that envisions a 145,150-tonne-per-year mine and a spodumene concentrator producing 20,593 tonnes per year of battery-grade lithium hydroxide.
The study will incorporate the results from a pilot-scale spodumene concentrator project underway that is testing a bulk sample containing more than 50 tonnes of mineralised pegmatite collected from 17 locations across the property. The study on the concentrator project is expected to be completed in mid-2021, with a construction decision to follow, the company said.
Piedmont also commenced a separate DFS in March for a planned lithium chemical plant incorporating lithium conversion technology developed by Metso Outotec, a Finland-based firm that develops sustainable technologies for the minerals processing, aggregates, and metals refining industries.
The technology, which excludes an acid roasting stage used in conventional spodumene conversion, is expected to improve the economics of the plant by eliminating the consumption of sulphuric acid and the production of sodium sulphate waste product, significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the plant.
That study, which is due to be completed in the third quarter, will also evaluate other initiatives to improve the operation’s environmental, social, and governance profile. These include installing solar power generating capacity and replacing the mine fleet with in-pit crushing and conveyor systems to improve the project’s economics and reduce emissions further.
In addition, its planned updated scoping study in May will assess the potential for a larger production profile of the project and the expanded production of by-products, including quartz, feldspar, and mica for sale to the clean energy, ceramics, and automotive industries. The results from the study will be incorporated into the DFS.
In the meantime, the company is conducting a 25,000-metre drill program with five drill rigs. Results from the program will be incorporated into an updated mineral resource, which is slated to be released in April, and will then be included in the DFS, with infill drilling completed by August, the company said.
If all goes to plan, Piedmont said it expects the construction of the project to be completed in 2022.