In recent days the company has agreed to new terms with key backers for around A$170 million of cornerstone funding for stage two, to examine fast-tracking a potential third stage, and to consider a larger chemical conversion facility that would take additional offtake from Pilgangoora.
In terms of the expansion of the Pilbara mine, which has already been fast-tracked from discovery to development over the past four years, key customers Jiangxi Ganfeng Lithium and Great Wall Motor Company have agreed to provide the balance of funding required for stage two, expanding the lithium-tantalum project to five million tonnes per annum.
Great Wall will offer a US$25 million offtake pre-payment facility to support the expansion, while Ganfeng will take a further A$50 million in equity.
POSCO, Ganfeng and Great Wall last year committed to 100% of the stage two offtake with up to US$100 million of pre-payment or debt financing, but the terms have been renegotiated, allowing $50 million in new bonds will be issues on the same terms as its existing Nordic bonds, which would offer lower cost financing.
The combined funds, together with Pilbara Minerals' existing cash reserves and future cashflow from stage one, will see stage two fully funded and into production in the March quarter of 2020, pending a final investment decision.
Further, engineering and construction works will accommodate stage three, which could see the project step up to an initial 6.2Mtpa and eventually 7.5Mtpa for annual production of 1.2Mtpa of spodumene concentrate, based on existing reserves from 2021.
It is an ambitious move for the company, which is still ramping up the A$284 million stage one, and in December was processing around 85% of nameplate.
"(With) completion of the expansion by the March quarter of 2020, Pilgangoora will be elevated to an annualised production rate of up to 850,000tpa of spodumene concentrate, putting us firmly on track to become one of the world's major global lithium raw material producers," managing director Ken Brinsden said.
"The quality of the products we are producing, the sheer scale of the resource and the speed at which production is ramping-up means that Pilgangoora is rapidly being recognised as one of the most important new lithium raw material projects globally."
He said key customers had visited the site and their investments were sending "a clear message about the robust outlook for the lithium market".
A further sign of that demand is POSCO's decision to sign a non-binding memorandum of understanding to expand a still-conceptual 30,000 tonne per annum chemical conversion facility to 40,000tpa to meet higher demand for high-grade hydroxide and carbonate products.
Pilbara has an option to participate for 30% in the downstream plant by exercising its right before February 28. Due diligence is underway.
The company has also confirmed it has suspended its direct shipping ore operations with customer Atlas Iron pending a decision on the DSO future.
Pilbara has what it says is the world's second-largest lithium resource of 226 million tonnes at 1.27% lithium oxide for 2.86Mt of contained lithium - which is expected to continue to grow with further drilling.
Shares in Pilbara were up 1.4% this morning to A71.5c, valuing the company at $1.25 billion.