Bloomberg — With battery makers screaming out for new supplies of lithium, a Brazilian-focused company is raising its initial output projection and turning toward a second-stage development.
Sigma Lithium Corp. expects to churn out 240,000 metric tons of lithium concentrate a year from the fourth quarter at its Grota do Cirilo hard-rock facility after operating on a pilot basis since 2018. That’s 9% more than its original production plan for the 1.2 billion-real project, which would be about $246 million at today’s exchange rate.
The New York-listed company expects to finish a feasibility study within two months for an estimated $80 million second stage that would take capacity to 460,000 tons by end-2023, Co-Chief Executive Officer Ana Cabral-Gardner said in an interview.
Sigma is about to join the ranks of commercial lithium producers just as prices of the metal skyrocket as mines struggle to keep up with electric-vehicle demand. One of the constraints to a faster supply-side response is the tricky nature of extracting lithium and the rising environmental and social expectations of investors and customers.
“As much as producers are accelerating to relieve demand pressure, they can’t do it too fast with the certification bar so high,” Cabral-Gardner said. “You can’t have nine women making a baby in one month.”
With the lithium market so tight and the metal accounting for a small part of battery costs, there’s plenty of room for new high-cost, high-quality producers, she said. “In an environment of tightness, prices don’t give in.”
Sigma’s expects to produce lithium concentrate at a cost of about $350 a ton, putting it in the lowest quartile of the industry thanks to a dense medium separation plant and dry-stacked tailings rather than dams.
Sigma, which was included in Bank of America’s top 50 stocks exposed to scarcity themes, has signed supply agreements with battery maker LG Energy Solution and Japanese trading company Mitsui & Co. First shipment is expected by the end of the year.
As buyers seek to give liquidity to lithium contracts, Sigma plans to adopt index-based prices on the London Metal Exchange.