Firebird fires up China-based manganese pilot plant

Manganese project developer Firebird Metals (ASX:FRB) has officially begun operations at its pilot plant in China as it works to deliver a Prefeasibility Study (PFS) before the end of the quarter.

The pilot plant commencement comes as Firebird completes the fit-out of its China-based Research and Development (R&D) Centre ahead of schedule and under budget, and the company says this is another ‘key milestone’ for its Chinese lithium, manganese, iron, and phosphate (LMFP) strategy. 

According to the $17.08 million market capitalisation company, the pilot plant will initially produce samples of battery-grade manganese sulphate and manganese tetraoxide for potential customers and offtake partners. 

Further to this, the company will use the plant to demonstrate its production process to financiers as it works to become a near-term producer of battery-grade manganese. 

Firebird says the pilot plant forms part of the R&D Centre, which will be used to test several other potential manganese-rich precursor cathode active materials. 

The company’s PFS for the project remains on track for delivery before the end of March. 

Managing Director Peter Allen says Firebird’s work in China is set to position it to become a ‘major, low-cost’ manganese sulphate producer for a market already forecast to experience ‘exponential growth’ over the coming decade. 

“Completion of the R&D Centre, under budget and ahead of schedule, is an excellent achievement and a strong testament to the team on the ground in China. 

This work will also play a key role in securing finance to construct our plant in Hunan and continue our focused efforts towards becoming a producer in the next 18-24 months.”

“This work will also play a key role in securing finance to construct our plant in Hunan and continue our focused efforts towards becoming a producer in the next 18-24 months”

Allen adds that thanks to a ‘heavily oversubscribed’ $8 million share placement in October 2023, the company is well-funded and in a ‘very strong position’ to tick boxes on its key work programs in China, as well as at its Oakover Manganese Project in Western Australia. 

The R&D Centre and pilot plant update follows the completion of a battery-grade manganese sulphate Scoping Study for Firebird’s operations in China delivered in November 2023. 

According to the results of the study, Firebird’s project has the makings of a ‘low-cost, near-term’ manganese sulphate producer, with total capital expenditure of around US$82.3 million before tax and ‘highly competitive’ operative expenditures of around US$659 per metric ton (mt).

These costs are complemented by a ‘strong’ projected net present value of roughly US$331 million at a discount rate of 8% before tax, with an internal rate of return of 47% before tax and a payback period of less than 2 years. 

The scoping study suggests the Chinese project has a plant capacity of 72,000 mt per annum of battery-grade manganese sulphate equivalent. 

Alongside its China-based operations and its Oakover Project, Firebird also owns a string of other manganese assets in Western Australia, including the Hill 616 Project and the Wandanya Project. 

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Images: Firebird Metals
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Written By Joshua Smith
Joshua Smith has years of experience in the media sector, having worked as a markets reporter, features writer, and editor since completing a Communications and Journalism degree and a Creative Writing degree. Josh is an avid board game fan and a self-professed coffee snob.