Rio Tinto extends Australia iron ore partnership with Sinosteel
Rio Tinto and Sinosteel Corporation have agreed a $45 million extension to their historic Channar Mining Joint Venture in Australia’s Pilbara region.
The Channar joint venture extension, together with a separate agreement for Rio Tinto to supply iron ore from the Pilbara, will enable sales of up to 70 million tonnes of iron ore to Sinosteel Corporation over the next five years.
This extension will see 30 million tonnes of iron ore supplied into the joint venture, with Sinosteel making a one-off payment of $45 million to Rio Tinto and providing additional production royalties linked to the iron ore price.
In a separate agreement, Rio Tinto will sell up to 40 million tonnes of iron ore to Sinosteel between 2016 and 2021.
In a ceremony witnessed by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Andrew Harding and Sinosteel Corporation Ltd president Liu Andong signed the Channar agreement, officially extending the long-established relationship between both companies until the end of the decade.
Harding said: “In the 50 years that we have been exporting iron ore from the Pilbara, the Channar joint venture stands out as one of the most important deals not only for our business, but for Australia’s economic ties with China. Now in its 30th year, it is one of the longest running and most successful partnerships between the two nations.
“We place immense value on our long-term customer relationships and today’s agreements clearly demonstrate that Rio Tinto and Sinosteel remain committed to our mutually beneficial partnership.”
Liu Andong added: “The Channar Mining Joint Venture was the first large-scale mining initiative between our two countries and is a cornerstone of Chinese and Australian trade. The extension of the joint venture marks another milestone in trade cooperation, especially in the current economic climate.
“The relationship between Sinosteel and Rio Tinto has demonstrated the ability of our companies and both nations to sustain significant long-term joint commercial activities for the benefit of all concerned.”
The joint venture extension is subject to certain conditions precedent being met, including West Australian, Australian and Chinese Government approvals.
British Lithium Pressured Due To Calls for Electric Cars
The British demand for lithium is set to reach 75,000 tonnes by 2035 as the government works towards their ban on the sale of high-polluting diesel and petrol vehicles within the UK. This comes as automakers worldwide continue to insist on the benefits electric vehicles will have on slowing the rate of climate change.
It is estimated that the UK will require 50,000-60,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year by 2035 for battery production to satisfy government needs. This is assuming production remains at 1.2 million vehicles per year, and the amount of lithium required does not increase.
British Lithium, which hopes to begin constructing a quarry to produce 20,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year in a $400 million investment, are not without competitors, both within the UK and abroad.
Competition For Lithium Rises In Europe
After only five years after its initial launch, Cornish Lithium is setting its sights on becoming a UK powerhouse in mining lithium, aiming to begin commercial production in under four years. Jeremy Wrathall, a former investment banker and current managing director of Cornish Lithium, had the future in mind when founding the company.
“In 2016, I started to think about the electric vehicle revolution and what that would mean for metal demand, and I started to think about lithium,” he said in an interview with AFP. “A friend of mine mentioned lithium being identified in Cornwall, and I just wondered if that was a sort of unrecognised thing in the UK.”
Lithium was first discovered in Cornwall around 1864 and has not been mined again since 1914 when it was produced as an ingredient in fireworks. Now, however, Cornish Lithium is reportedly in the testing stage to see if the metal can be produced commercially to meet the growing demand required for the electric car sector.
Despite Cornwall’s close historic ties to mining lithium, Wrathall insists that the project is purely commercial.
Cornish Mining Revival For Lithium Production
“It’s not a mission that drives me to the point of being emotional or romantic,” he says. “It’s vitally important that we do get this technology otherwise Europe has got no lithium supply.”
The European Commission has also stated their goal to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 to aid the environment. That being said, the majority of lithium extraction currently relies on power provided by environmentally damaging fossil fuels─a slight contradiction.
Alex Keynes, from the Brussels-based lobby group Transport & Environment, is adamant that mining for lithium should be done sustainably.
“Our view is that medium-to-long term, the majority of materials including lithium should come from efficient and clean recycling.
“Europe from a strategic point of view should be looking at securing its own supply of lithium.”
Despite growing competition from abroad, British Lithium Chairman, Roderick Smith, continues to place importance on the mining of lithium within the UK.
“Imagine what the UK economy would look like if we lost our automotive industry,” Smith says. “The stakes are high for the UK.”
Smith expects the UK to compete with other European countries to secure a lithium battery plant in the near future.