A worker pours gold at the AngloGold Ashanti mine at Obuasi, Ghana, October 23, 2003. Reuters/Luc Gnago

The Pilgangoora lithium project in Pilbara will see recruitment of local workers working in the Pilbara mine. The mine, located more than 120 kilometres south of Port Hedland, is part of Altura Mining’s wholly owned project in the area.

Last Monday, a ground breaking ceremony was conducted that marked the start of work at the site. The construction is scheduled to be completed by January 2018. As many as 220,000 tonnes of lithium spodumene concentrate will be provided by the mine each year for a period of 14 years.

“We will be using Port Hedland as our first point of call for employment of construction and operations personnel as this will support the local economy and prove to be a more sustainable option for Altura, having an element of our workforce as drive-in, drive out instead of FIFO,” Altura operations general manager Chris Evans said.

He added that the project would employ around 250 people. “This is the most advanced lithium mine and we’re about to produce it,” he said. The $110 million five-year contract for the development of the mine and drill and blast services was given to NRW Holdings in February.

Port Hedland Mayor Camilo Blanco said the start of work came as good news. “Any project that is starting up in the Pilbara is going to benefit Port Hedland to diversify our economy,” Blanco said.

The news comes amid Albemarle’s projection that lithium-ion battery projection would scale by 8 percent annually over the next five years. This, the world’s largest lithium producer said, would propel demand for the metal sourced from hard rock spodumene in Australia and brine extraction in the Americas.

Albemarle also announced its plans to expand the Greenbushes spodumene mine in Western Australia. The company jointly owns the mine with Chinese company Tianqi.

As the largest and highest grade spodumene mine internationally, an expansion of the Greenbushes will increase the annual production by more than double. It will subsequently be able to produce 160,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate a year. Albemarle will have rights to 50 percent of the total production.

According to Deutsche analyst Mathew Hocking, demand for lithium upped by 15 percent last year. The same is forecast to increase to as much as 24 percent in 2017. However, a steady supply of lithium from spodumene indicated that the market could be facing an oversupply by the end of this year.

The future of lithium demand looked bright for, and following, 2019. According to Hocking, the demand would climb to 380,000 tonnes a year, marking a growth of 80 percent from last year.