It produced 106,683 tonnes of lithium spodumene concentrate, at the Mount Marion operation in the south-central region of the state, in the January-March quarter, down by 7.23% from the 115,000 tonnes produced in the previous quarter, Mineral Resources said this week.
Although production was down, the company increased its spodumene concentrate shipments by 18.08% to 111,000 tonnes in the quarter, up from 94,000 tonnes in October-December 2018.
Mount Marion produced a total of 418,711 tonnes of spodumene concentrate in 2018 before former co-owner, Neometals sold its minority stake to enable the formation of a 50:50 joint venture between Mineral Resources and China's Ganfeng Lithium.
Mineral Resources announced on May 1 that the price for 6% spodumene concentrate shipments for the April-June quarter would be $682.38 per tonne, down from $791.84 per tonne in the January-March quarter.
Fastmarkets latest price assessment for contract lithium spodumene (min 5-6% Li2O) was $600-700 per tonne cif China on April 24, down from $900-970 per tonne on May 30, 2018.
Spodumene prices fell due to the lower domestic prices in China for lithium carbonate, and lithium hydroxide over the course of the past year, against which the spodumene price is calculated.
At Kalgoorlie, just north-east of Mount Marion, Mineral Resources and Ganfeng plan to build a lithium-hydroxide plant to produce 20,000-25,000 tpy of battery-grade lithium hydroxide compounds using the Mount Marion output. This plant is set to start production by mid 2021.
Mineral Resources also entered an exclusive 50:50 agreement with Albemarle in the last quarter of 2018 to jointly produce spodumene at the Wodgina mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, with a plan to convert the output into lithium hydroxide.
Commissioning of a spodumene concentrate plant started in the first quarter of 2019. And production is expected to reach 250,000 tpy within the next two years, with the companies ultimately aiming to increase the annual output to 750,000 tonnes.
For the conversion to lithium hydroxide, the companies are aiming to develop a 50,000-tpy battery-grade lithium hydroxide plant in a two-stage process. The initial production capacity is expected to be achieved by 2022, before eventually being ramped up to 100,000 tpy in a second stage.