The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) will loan $19.5 million to upgrade 70km of public road to help boost exports of lithium from the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Matt Canavan, said the loan to a subsidiary of Pilbara Minerals Ltd (PLS) would upgrade a 70km public road from the PLS-owned Pilgangoora mine, one of the world’s largest known lithium ore deposits.

“This will get lithium from the mine to port more efficiently, and also improve travel times and safety for a wide range of road-users in the region, including other mining companies, pastoralists, Indigenous communities, local residents and tourists,” Mr Canavan said.

“Upgrading roads like this is a vital part of our commitment to the further development of Northern Australia.

“The Coalition Government will continue to invest in Northern Australia though a range of initiatives, including NAIF and the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia.”

Minister Canavan said local Indigenous businesses would also benefit during the construction and maintenance phases of the road upgrade, with one Indigenous joint venture – known as NPJV – already sub-contracted on preliminary roadworks.

“Northern Australia is a vital source of export income and the road upgrade will allow improved mine access and greater payloads to be transported to port,” Mr Canavan said.

“Travel time and safety will be improved, as the road bypasses three railway crossings and diverts heavy vehicles from a large part of the Great Northern Highway.

“This is the sort of job-creating infrastructure project that NAIF has been designed to support.”

Minister Canavan said he expected to be able to announce further NAIF loans in coming months.

Minister Canavan said the burgeoning demand for batteries is creating opportunities to expand lithium production.

“I want to encourage more investment in lithium, not just in the mining and early processing but also through the value chain as well.”

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