UPDATE: Atlas Iron restarts mining operations at Pilbara mines
Don’t call it a comeback. Australian mining company Atlas Iron has decided to resurrect mining production at its Pilbara mines in Western Australia, after previously suspending operations due to declining iron ore prices. The company will now continue to export through May.
According to Atlas Iron, the reversed decision was attributed to a “substantial” reduction in operating costs and the production and sale of the company’s first ever lump cargo. The company said roughly 65 percent of production at its Abydos mine in the Pilbara would be lump ore---priced at a premium to its Standard Fines product.
Atlas expects to produce approximately 200,000 wet mt/month of lump from Abydos. With the new operating model, which includes lump product, streams and assistance provided, Atlas expects to produce positive cash flow in May.
Atlas plans to convert the initiatives into possible longer-term operating solutions.
Exports from Abydos have been largely uninterrupted in April as it was able to draw down stockpiles and it’s expected to restart production from its Wodgina mine “as soon as possible” in May.
The company struck arrangements with “key contractors” last week to continue operations at Abydos and Wodgina during the month of May. According to Financial Review, contractors for Atlas Iron have also pushed for the company to reopen its third and most expensive mine, Mount Webber.
In April, Atlas Iron announced it would progressively suspend production at is Pilbara mines sites over the next few weeks after it was unable to keep up with plunging iron ore prices.
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.