RESOURCEStocks: Plymouth has just announced a significant resource expansion, and upgrade (140% boost to indicated resource), to 112Mt grading 0.61% lithium oxide, at San Jose in Spain. Mineralisation remains open in both directions along strike, and at depth. Given the size of the resource you take into the 2018 feasibility study phase, what are your plans now with regard to further resource drilling?
Adrian Byass: The resource is one of the largest lithium deposits in Europe with over 112 million tonnes in JORC resource providing the project with a mine life in excess of 24 years. Moving towards finalising a feasibility study, we will add additional drilling to improve the confidence within the proposed open pit area that will provide geotechnical information to steepen the pit walls, this will improve the economics of the pit by reducing the strip ratio and additional sample for metallurgical variability testwork.
RS: What happened with the tin and boron grades/resource in the latest update?
AB: The tin grades remained the same from the previous estimate, as expected. Boron lives within the tourmaline and is ubiquitous throughout the deposit. We discovered that boron could be leached in the extraction process during the scoping study. During the feasibility study we will investigate the boron opportunity further.
RS: Where does the new resource put you in a European lithium development context - where on the current ‘league table' as a development project)?
AB: San Jose is the largest lithium deposit in Europe behind European Metals' 696Mt underground Cinovec project and Rio Tinto's 136Mt Jadar lithium boron deposit.
RS: You've dispatched bulk samples for testing by Shandong Ruifu in China. How long before you get/post results, and what are the primary aims of that program?
AB: There are over 10 operations processing lithium from mica in the Yichun region alone. China has been processing lithium from mica for many years and has developed technology that could assist Plymouth to enhance the economics of our flowsheet. We have sent a bulk sample to Shandong Ruifu, our technology partners in China, to allow them to undertake beneficiation optimisation work on the ore and then production of battery grade lithium carbonate. There are many outcomes from this work that will be delivered during the course of the metallurgical testwork program. We expect to see initial results for the beneficiation work in the first quarter of next year.
RS: Just a quick recap, what did your bench-scale testwork produce in the way of battery-grade lithium product and what is the significance of that in terms of the chemistry achieved/market prospects?
AB: In October we announced that we had produced a battery grade lithium carbonate product from our non- beneficiated ore. This was 99.9% Li2C03. We are pleased with the outcome of this testwork as it validates that the lithium in mica at the San Jose lithium-tin project is recoverable to a high specification via our process flowsheet pathway. The work was undertaken by lithium specialists Anzaplan in Germany.
RS: You have an MoU in place with Shandong Ruifu. What's the significance of that partnership in view of the fact that the European market is ultimately the preferred focus for product supply from San Jose (purely a partnership focusing on engineering/potentially equipment supply)?
AB: We see Shandong Ruifu as a strong partner in many areas of the project. Certainly from a technical point of view Ruifu have substantial expertise in processing mica ores as they have built and operated lithium mica processing plants in the Yichun province, China. In addition they have recently commissioned 20kt of lithium carbonate production from spodumene feedstock, with a further 10,000t of lithium hydroxide capability due early next year.
Shandong has experience in developing flowsheets and building lithium refineries that produce battery grade materials, PLH is keen to leverage off this knowledge to enhance the already good economics of the San Jose deposit.
PLH does see Europe as the perfect market for the battery grade lithium carbonate produced in Spain at the San Jose lithium-tin project, however, PLH is always open to strategic partnerships and is looking to secure the best deal possible for shareholders. China has a voracious demand for lithium and prices are strong in China.
RS: In terms of demonstrating the ability to produce a 1.4% beneficiated lithium oxide on site at San Jose, what are you looking for vis-à-vis key process inputs, and basic cost parameters (indicative), for the testwork to be classed as successful?
AB: Our scoping study has parameters for the beneficiation plant that see 0.85% Li20 as a feedstock producing a beneficiated mica product at 1.4% Li20. This process removes 60% of the mass. So, we will feed 1.25m tonnes into the beneficiation plant at 0.85% Li20, which will be upgraded to 500kt at 1.4% li20. Recovery through the beneficiation process is expected to be 65%. Confirmation or upgrade to these parameters would be considered successful. Our cost to produce 1t of battery grade lithium carbonate through the beneficiation plant and refinery is US$3,600, this does not include mining or tails placement.
RS: What is the schedule now for getting the feasibility study done (during 2018), and what preparations will you get underway for permitting over the next 6-12 months?
AB: We completed the scoping study and submitted our mining licence application to earn 50% of the San Jose lithium-tin project in October 2017. PLH has started the feasibility study work to earn an additional 25% of the project. We expect to have completed the study and publish the results by the end of calendar year 2018. This work will be split with the first half of the year focussing on metallurgical work to confirm the process flowsheet in the beneficiation plant and refinery and the second half will be engineering design work. We have already applied for the 30-year mining licence which is anticipated to be granted prior to banking.
RS: What are the key areas of the scoping study you are targeting for improvement/optimisation/why?
AB: We are targeting areas of the scoping study that will provide enhanced robustness of the process and improve the already compelling economics of the project. These areas are the beneficiation process, the kiln inputs and the efficiency of recycling reagents.
RS: You've started end-user talks, which could produce significant developments next year. What are you bringing to those discussions that others aren't, or can't, at this point?
AB: Plymouth's San Jose project will provide a battery grade lithium carbonate that is available in Europe outside of China. Australian lithium producers, which account for 40% plus of the world's lithium, deliver lithium concentrate into China to be converted into lithium battery products, etc. This is then consumed in China and is not available to the wider market. PLH can break this supply constraint by providing battery grade lithium carbonate to end users in a market that has tight supply constraints.