Piedmont Lithium Ltd (ASX:PLL) president and chief executive officer Keith Phillips has reassured shareholders that the company’s activities for its Piedmont Lithium Project in North Carolina, US, are progressing well despite the current coronavirus pandemic.
He said: “First and foremost, we are focused on the safety of our employees, consultants and advisors.
“Non-essential travel has been eliminated and in-person meetings have been curtailed given the social distancing that most groups are observing.
“As a development stage company, we often work remotely in the normal course, and we have formalized that approach for the time being with little impact on productivity.”
The company is focused on lithium hydroxide test work, the chemical plant prefeasibility study and chemical plant permitting activities.
Lithium hydroxide test work
Hydroxide test work is nearing completion at the SGS laboratory in Lakefield, Ontario.
Phillips said: “As reported on February 25, 2020, we have completed 9 of the 10 steps with positive results.
“The final crystallization steps are under way but will take longer than planned due to some remote working practices being implemented at the SGS laboratory.
“We do not expect this extended completion of test work to have an impact on our other activities.”
Chemical plant prefeasibility study
Hatch is progressing its work on the chemical plant pre-feasibility study (PFS) and remains on track for delivery in quarter two 2020.
Phillips said: “The chemical plant PFS will provide refined estimates of our capital and operating costs and should reinforce our position as a low-cost US-based producer of lithium hydroxide.”
Chemical plant permitting activities
Background studies to be used in the chemical plant permit applications are ongoing and proceeding on schedule.
Phillips said: “We still plan to submit these permit applications shortly after completion of the chemical plant PFS and expect to receive these permits during 2020.”
Definitive feasibility study
Phillips said that each of the three activities are of critical importance, and each is well advanced.
He said: “Our plan remains to complete these three significant de-risking steps and then evaluate market conditions before accelerating toward completion of a definitive feasibility study.”
“Strong financial position”
Phillips said: “We take great comfort in our strong financial position and will be prudent in maintaining that through this market dislocation.
“We completed a large equity financing in July 2019 with strong institutional support and have a very strong cash position (US$11.4 million / A$18.4 million at December 31, 2019), as well as a modest monthly cash burn rate.”
Lithium market dynamics
The company believes that, while uncertainly exists with respect to the duration of the current economic slowdown, it is increasingly clear that the future is bright for the lithium business, particularly in the United States.
In Europe, electric vehicle (EV) sales were up strongly in February, including growth of more than 200% in the UK and France.
General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) announced a $20 billion investment in electrification, including unveiling their Ultium batteries to be produced in joint venture with LG Chem Ltd (KRX:051910) and expects to drive battery cell costs below $100/ kilowatt-hour and Audi AG (OTCMKTS:AUDVF), Mercedes (Daimler AG (ETR:DAI)) and Jaguar (Tata Motors Limited ADR (NYSE:TTM)) are all reported to be having difficulty securing battery supplies.
Piedmont also notes that progress continues on next generation batteries expected to contain substantially more lithium, particularly in the anode and electrolyte.
Phillips said that shutdowns associated with the coronavirus have made increasingly clear the merits of local supply sources.
He said: “China currently produces roughly 80% of the world’s lithium hydroxide, highlighting the strategic advantage of our unique location in the USA’s ‘auto alley’.
“In short, the future of Piedmont is bright, and we anticipate positive developments in coming weeks and months.”