Casualty of Australia's iron ore war seeks second chance in lithium
By James Regan and Matt Siegel
SYDNEY, July 20 (Reuters) - Ken Brinsden rode Australia's iron ore boom up and then down as head of Atlas Iron. Now he is chasing a new treasure, one fuelled by a metal powerful enough to propel electric cars to speeds of 250 km (150 miles) per hour: lithium
His company, Pilbara Minerals, plans to be mining the silvery-white metal by 2018, putting it ahead of dozens of other Australian prospectors.
"Once we get up, we will be able to account for the equivalent of about 20 percent of the market as it stands now," Brinsden said. "As long as we can keep our costs low, we've got a good shot."
Lithium prices have tripled to over $20,000 a tonne in the past year on expected demand for batteries to power electric vehicles and to store electricity. Tesla Corp said in May it plans to build 500,000 new electric cars a year by 2018 and lithium will be the key element in that expansion.
Investors looking to cash in on this boom should look to miners like Pilbara and others but need to keep in mind previous booms in opaquely-traded metals such as rare earths and uranium that quickly crashed when demand failed to materialize and prospectors ran out of money.
Far East Capital fund manager Warwick Grigor likens Australian lithium stocks to a "crapshoot" and a "casino for uneducated investors."
"At one stage we had more than 100 companies wearing the uranium ticket but only two or three companies end up producing uranium out of that" as prices retreated before mines could be dug, Grigor said.
Since Brinsden took over Pilbara in December, its shares have jumped 1-1/2 times in value from 23.5 Australian cents to 60.5 Australian cents. Continuación...