Flurry of Supply Deals as World Scrambles for Tomorrow’s Lithium
A flurry of activity between producers and buyers is underway to lock down supply agreements for years to come. While Chinese buyers are leading the way with deals all over the world, North American buyers including Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors are also securing all that they can as the world prepares for the electric vehicle (EV) revolution.
These deals are happening earlier and earlier in the process as well, with Tesla’s latest deal being signed with a plant that’s not even built yet. The same goes for Chinese lithium buyer, General Lithium Corp., which is now signed on to buy supplies from a future Canadian mine that’s not expected to generate revenue until Q4 of 2019.
The winners in all this are the lithium producers, both present and future. These are based all over the world, including Australian miners Kidman Resources Limited (OTC: KDDRF), Pilbara Minerals Limited (OTC: PILBF), Chile’s Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile (NYSE: SQM), and Canadian miners Nemaska Lithium (OTC: NMKEF) (TSX: NMX) and QMC Quantum Minerals Corp. (TSX.V: QMC) (OTC: QMCQF).
A lithium supply gap is forcing buyers to aggressively jockey for position on global supplies as they roll off the production line. While this war for supplies heats up, the buyers must also be keeping tomorrow’s lithium mines and the miners on their radar.
These include the Mount Holland lithium JV project of Kidman Resources and SQM in Western Australia, and the Whabouchi Mine in Quebec, Canada, owned by Nemaska Lithium. Both of these mines are yet to be built, however, the bulk (if not all) of their supplies are already spoken for.
Calls are flooding other miners who are set to produce soon, like Pilbara Minerals on its Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum project—Despite the fact that the first stage is already 100% signed away to buyers General Lithium, and Ganfeng Lithium. Hence, the market is now looking towards which project is next in line to get a dance partner.
One junior that’s possibly moving closer to its own production in the years to come is QMC Quantum Minerals Corp. Bolstered by its 100%-owned Irgon Mine flagship project in mining friendly Manitoba, Canada, QMC controls what could be another lithium massive resource. Now they’ve assembled a technical team tasked with bringing the previously historic non-compliant resource into compliance, and to significantly expand Irgon’s size and potential.
Supply deals are being signed seemingly everywhere, as the market for lithium is showing no signs of slowing down. In order to meet the demand, new projects must continue to develop into production. With buyers getting out ahead of their competitors earlier and earlier, the financing for these new projects will likely become smoother, faster, and more prevalent.
LUCRATIVE LITHIUM SUPPLIERS: PRESENT AND FUTURE
Kidman Resources Limited (OTC: KDDRF)
The Australian miner made international headlines as it signed a three-year lithium supply deal with arguably the world’s most famous EV manufacturer, Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors. The fixed-price deal is set to commence once Kidman’s project in Western Australia begins production. The Mount Holland hardrock lithium project in western Australia is a joint venture with Chile’s SQM, the world’s second-largest lithium producer. Kidman is also building a refinery to process its lithium into battery-grade material, which is expected to commence construction in 2021.
Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile (NYSE: SQM)
Set inside the Kwinana Strategic Industrial area, south of Perth, SQM and Kidman’s JV refinery is set to be commissioned in 2021. The project has an initial annual nameplate capacity of 44,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide or 37,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate. While Kidman recently signed its supply deal with Tesla, SQM has also been working on its own deals back in its home base of Chile. Midway through May, SQM received more than $4 billion for selling a sizeable stake of itself to China-based Tianqi Lithium.
Pilbara Minerals Limited (OTC: PILBF)
Now that it’s on the cusp of commissioning its Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum project, Pilbara is already being inundated with requests for lithium supply, according to company boss Ken Brinsden. Already, 100% of the expected 300,000-350,000 tonnes per annum of spodumene is committed under offtake deals with General Lithium and Ganfeng Lithium. However, there’s still a possible stage 2 expansion on deck, should Pilbara approve a final investment decision valued at over US$155 million in July. Ganfeng, Great Wall Motors and POSCO have options over all of the planned stage 2 production of 500,000-550,000 tonnes per annum as well. As things stand for the next few years, Pilbara is sold out.
Nemaska Lithium (OTC: NMKEF) (TSX: NMX)
Much like Pilbara, Canada’s Nemaska Lithium now has its own lithium supply agreement with General Lithium Corp. Based in the province of Quebec, Nemaska’s Whabouchi Mine will supply a significant quantity of spodumene concentrate on a take-or-pay basis at a market priced-based formula, at the time of delivery. The supply period is set to commence after the construction of the Whabouchi Mine and continue up to the full ramp-up of an electrochemical plant in Shawinigan, Quebec. Nemaska expects the spodumene concentrate sales to generate revenue by the last quarter of 2019.
While at a much earlier stage of development compared to Nemaska, QMC Quantum Minerals is making significant strides on its 100%-owned Irgon Lithium Mine Project in Manitoba. QMC recently reported it had engaged SGS Canada to provide technical support and consulting services to help carry out the company’s 2018 field exploration and drilling program. As well, SGS will use the data acquired through the 2018 exploration program to compile a NI 43-101 compliant technical report to confirm and potentially increase the previously non-compliant historical resource of 1.2 million tonnes at 1.51% Li2O. With a potentially massive resource in play, QMC could be the next Canadian lithium supplier.
MANITOBA’S MILLIONS OF MINING TONNES
With the possibility of a resource that could have significantly more than 1.2 million tonnes at 1.51% Li2O, QMC Quantum Minerals Corp. (TSX.V: QMC) (OTC: QMCQF) is getting closer to a major mining event in Manitoba. Having uncovered a long forgotten treasure in the Irgon Dike, QMC aims to capitalize on the significant increase in prices for today’s lithium versus when the discovery was first made.
Earlier in May, QMC disseminated historical assay results that were obtained during a 1956 channel sampling of the Irgon Dike where it is exposed underground in crosscuts on the 200-foot level. The company released a 3-D model, which demonstrates that, to date, exploration and underground development has been only undertaken on the upper and central portions of dike leaving significant potential to quickly increase tonnage, as the Irgon Dike is open both along strike and to depth.
The project was originally worked on by the Lithium Corporation of Canada in the 1950s, and now is finally getting an effective work program. With modern analysis, the potential for the project is far more massive than it was given credit for over 60 years ago. On site, a complete mining plant was previously installed, designed to process 500 tons of ore per day, and a three-compartment shaft was sunk to a depth of 74 meters. When work on the operation was suspended in 1957, the market for lithium oxides wasn’t favourable. However, with today’s prices (and the subsequent mad rush for supply and offtake agreements), the rebooting of the Irgon Mine project is not only sensible, but seemingly inevitable.
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