Brinsden's unwavering faith pays off for Pilbara

Ken Brinsden jokes that he and his colleagues have whiplash after a wild couple of years in the lithium sector (reports MiningNews).
9th July 2021
Resources Rising Stars

From opening the A$284 million Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum mine in late 2018 to being forced to moderate production in 2019 and 2020 to as little as 30% of full capacity due to poor market conditions, it's been a rocky road for Pilbara.

In mid-2020, when lithium market sentiment was at its weakest, Pilbara completed a critical refinancing, replacing a high-interest US$100 Nordic bond with a $110 million senior secured debt facility from BNP Paribas and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation - the first time a lithium company had attracted conventional bank financing.

"That was crucial because otherwise we would have been carrying this incredibly high-cost debt with bondholders breathing down your neck, and life would have gotten increasingly very, very tough," Brinsden told MNN.

"It meant we were in about as good a shape as we could be for the rebound, albeit the rebound has happened a lot quicker than we otherwise expected."

While Pilbara was barely breaking even for much of last year, the team spent that time optimising the plant with a focus on improving recoveries and lowering costs for when market conditions improved.

"While that was structured and deliberate, we didn't expect the market to turn around as quickly as it has - you'd have to be Nostradamus to see that coming as quickly as it did," Brinsden said.

While spodumene prices dropped below $400 per dry metric tonne late last year, prices are currently sitting at $720-750/t.

That rapid recovery has been prompted by government stimulus around the world, as well as the US' renewed focus on emissions reduction following the election of Joe Biden as president.

"It's definitely brought forward demand and that's what's completely turned the market on its head," Brinsden said.

"It is going from famine to feast because we struggled to get sales away historically and we really ramped down the mine's activity, compared to today, when we haven't got enough product to sell - it's amazing.



Image credit: WA Business News

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