Pilbara Minerals boss Ken Brinsden says the jury is still out as to whether the company will build a downstream processing plant in WA as part of a proposed joint venture agreement over its Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum project near Port Hedland.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Resources Rising Stars conference on the Gold Coast last week, Mr Brinsden noted that Kwinana was a good location to put a lithium refinery, but Port Hedland did not have the chemical activity that added value to the process.

“We’ve studied the plant going into Australia as one of the solutions, but it equally could go elsewhere,” he said.

“The decision as to where your plant goes is driven by many different factors, only one of which is the location of the mine.

“It’s a combination of power, the cost of reagents supply, who’s supplying the technology, how sensitive are they to the location.

“If you’re doing hydroxide, there’s an argument to say, well really, that hydroxide plant should be immediately adjacent to the cathode materials or battery-making plant because they really want it fresh.”

Pilbara Minerals is in the middle of negotiations to sell up to a 49 per cent stake in Pilgangoora as part of a proposed stage three expansion of the project.

The $226 million expansion would lift Pilgangoora’s capacity to 7.5 million tonnes per annum, boosting annual spodumene production to 1.2 million tonnes and 1.1 million pounds of tantalite concentrate over an estimated 15-year mine life.

The company, which has engaged Macquarie to help it explore options for the sale, expects to make an announcement on the sale next quarter.

Separately, Pilbara is eyeing plans to enter the high-value downstream processing market via a joint venture with its one of its offtake partners, South Korean steel giant POSCO.

The two parties are eyeing a chemical conversion plant in South Korea that would produce 40,000 tonnes a year of lithium carbonate equivalent.

A final investment decision on the joint venture, in which Pilbara is expected to hold a 30 per cent stake, is due before the end of the quarter.

Mr Brinsden said POSCO was a credible partner with fantastic technology to deploy and was already creating high-value products for the battery industry.

Image: Pilbara Minerals Managing Director Ken Brinsden, The West Australian.