Lithium miner Liontown Resources has locked in supply deals with top car makers, but the boss is most proud of links with Traditional Owners.

Making his pitch to the Diggers and Dealers Mining Forum in Kalgoorlie on Wednesday, managing director Tony Ottaviano said the team has ticked all the development milestones.

Construction is underway and initial production for year one is set at 500,000 tonnes, mostly to service Tesla and battery storage company LG Energy Solutions.

The Kathleen Valley project is on Tjiwarl land in the vast Goldfields-Esperance region of Western Australia, in the south-eastern corner of the state.

“Everyone focuses on the offtake agreements – the Teslas, the Fords – but I believe the biggest achievement so far is we’ve signed a native title agreement,” he told AAP.

The native title agreement signed in November was the first since Rio Tinto’s devastating destruction of ancient artefacts in Juukan Gorge, which rocked trust industry-wide.

He said it is “evergreen” – although boards will come and go, the agreement will endure.

But the spirit in which the negotiations were done must be passed on to those who follow us, he said.

Traditional lore is embedded in the design of the camp that will house more than 400 workers, with the shape of a huge dragonfly apparent from a bird’s eye view.

A snake stretches all the way along the creek to Alice Springs, the Tjiwarl say.

The dragonfly protected the people, pushing the serpent into the creek.

“So we respect that story and designed the camp,” Mr Ottaviano said.

In an improving market with a world-class resource in a tier-one jurisdiction like WA, he says he decided to sign up customers first.

He opted to diversify, notching up customers along the battery value chain and going where the technology is formulated and adopted – electric vehicle makers and battery cell manufacturers.

“If I’m as close as possible to where that’s happening, if there’s a shift, I’ll have an early signal.”

He dismissed fears of value destruction for shareholders from locking in the supply deals.

“We haven’t locked in a price, we’ve locked in a price mechanism and a reference price, an index – so we will flow up and down in the market,” he said.

The project also has one of the largest renewable farms in the mining industry, with solar, wind and Telsa battery backup and gas redundancy from day one.

Liontown is on a net zero trajectory, with a climate road map for net zero emissions by 2034.

The company says the underground approach also gives them a strong ESG (environmental, social and governance) profile relative to open-cut peers.

“They (the Tjiwarl) pushed us, because of the connection to land, and said no open cut,” Mr Ottaviano said.

The decision to go underground turned out to be a far better economic decision and the footprint is smaller, he said.

“If we hadn’t been challenged, we would have done it like everyone else.”

  • Story by Marion Rae, AAP