MinRes celebrates first lithium production from restarted Wodgina mine

Headshot of Stuart McKinnon
Stuart McKinnonThe West Australian
Mineral Resources' Wodgina beneficiation plant.
Camera IconMineral Resources' Wodgina beneficiation plant. Credit: Mineral Resources/Mineral Resources

Mineral Resources has produced first spodumene concentrate from the restart of its Wodgina joint venture lithium mine in the Pilbara as its expansion plans around the booming battery metal start to take shape.

The production comes less than seven months after the Chris Ellison-led company announced it would restart operations at the mine in response to a sharp turnaround in prices for the key battery ingredient.

The operation, 120km south of Port Hedland, was shuttered in November 2019 on weak market conditions for lithium.

The first production follows the recommissioning of one of three 250,000 tonnes per annum trains at Wodgina.

Work is also underway to prepare Wodgina’s second train for production in July.

And the company has previously said it would review the state of the global lithium market towards the end of the year to assess timing for the start-up of Train 3 and the possible construction of Train 4 at Wodgina.

MinRes’ lithium chief executive Paul Brown said the fast start-up was a credit to the company’s strategy to build and invest in a portfolio of long-life, high-quality assets.

“Achieving first spodumene concentrate production at Wodgina is a great milestone as we look to safely and efficiently build production momentum to meet significant global demand for lithium products,” he said.

“Work is also advanced on starting Train 2, which demonstrates the foresight and optionality MinRes invested in Wodgina when we first developed this world-class asset.”

The news comes after MinRes boss Chris Ellison refloated plans for a lithium hydroxide plant at Wodgina, which operates as a 40/60 joint venture with US chemicals giant Albemarle, although the partners have signed a draft deal to make the asset a 50/50 ownership arrangement.

It also follows news MinRes had agreed with 50/50 Chinese joint venture partner Gangfeng in the Mt Marion lithium operation near Kalgoorlie to immediately lift production from 450,000tpa to 600,000tpa of mixed grade product.

A further investment would lift output to 900,000tpa of mixed grade product by the end of the year, equivalent to 600,000tpa of 6 per cent product.

Meanwhile MinRes advised on Thursday that commissioning of the first of two 25,000tpa processing lines at Kemerton joint venture lithium hydroxide plant near Bunbury was almost complete and maiden hydroxide production was expected shortly. The asset also operates as a 40/60 joint venture with Albemarle.

Lithium prices have surged nearly 500 per cent in the past year, with demand for the energy metal tipped to jump five-fold by the end of the decade, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.

MinRes shares closed down $1.14, or 2 per cent, at $53.12 in a sharply weaker market.

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