With the nickel price having recovered from the late March lows and now trading above the $15,000/t mark on the LME, those miners and developers tied to the base metal have been making moves in the last few months. Alan Taylor at ALTA 2020 Online recently highlighted some of the more significant news in the nickel-cobalt laterite sector.
It comes just two months prior to the start of the virtual conference.
Often viewed as an industry bellwether, the First Quantum-owned Ravensthorpe nickel mine (pictured) in Western Australia is continuing with a restart plan despite coronavirus challenges, the company recently reported.
The acid plant and atmospheric leaching operations restarted in March 2020, with the first high pressure acid leach (HPAL) circuit brought on stream in mid-April, followed by product drying and containerising of nickel mixed hydroxide product.
The second HPAL circuit is scheduled to come online in due course.
Director of Exploration, Mike Christie, said previously at Paydirt’s Africa Downunder conference in September 2019 that the mine plans to ramp-up production to between 20,000-30,000 t/y of nickel over the next few years.
Some 1,979 t of nickel was produced at the operation in the June quarter.
Ramu expansion engineering ready
Looking back to an ASX announcement on October 8, 2018, from Highland Pacific, a minority partner in the Ramu Nickel JV, a A$1.5 billion ($1.1 billion) expansion continues to be investigated.
Ramu is currently rated at 34,000 t/y nickel and 3,300 t/y cobalt as mixed hydroxide precipitate (MHP), achieved in 2017.
By way of an update, Craig Lennon, Executive Director of Highlands Pacific (now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Conic Metals Corp), advised Taylor that the expansion project is engineering-ready, although the final decision to proceed is dependent on factors including global markets and final permitting decisions in Papua New Guinea.
Indonesia projects slowed
There are several HPAL projects in Indonesia aimed at producing MHP for the electric vehicle battery industry. They received environmental approvals in January 2020, allowing them to proceed with construction, according to Jack Anderson of Roskill, however, their development depends on Chinese expertise and progress is likely to be slowed due to Chinese workers involved in the construction being quarantined.
Sunrise PEP progressing towards Q3 2020 completion
Fluor Australia Pty, as Project Management Contractor, is working with the Clean TeQ-owned Sunrise nickel/cobalt/scandium project team to develop a comprehensive Project Execution Plan (PEP) for the Sunrise project in New South Wales, Australia, according to reports.
The company expects that completion and announcement of the outcomes will be late in the September quarter.
Clean TeQ advises that the PEP capital estimate will likely be higher than the 2018 definitive feasibility study figure, while the operating costs indicate the project will remain extremely competitive because of strong cobalt by-product credits.
Queensland offers funding for Sconi
The Queensland government has offered Australian Mines a conditional financial support package for the development of the Sconi cobalt-nickel-scandium project in north Queensland, the mine developer says.
The package will be subject to a number of conditions including a timetable for securing an offtake agreement for all of the nickel sulphate and cobalt sulphate production (September 2020); delivery of a detailed execution plan, obtaining approved financing for construction and making a final investment decision; appointing an engineering, procurement, construction management contractor (end 2020); and completion of construction (July 2023).
It also includes conditions for employment of people and engagement of independent contractors working directly on the project.
Australian Mines, in August, became the first mineral resources company to be certified a “Carbon Neutral Organisation” under the Australian Government’s Climate Active program.
Piauí project granted preliminary environmental licence
Brazilian Nickel plc announced the granting of a Preliminary Environmental Licence by the Brazilian Piauí State Environmental Agency on October 22, 2019, for the mining and heap leaching processing plant to produce nickel and cobalt products for the battery industry at its Piauí nickel project.
The company says it is now ready to advance through a bankable feasibility study (BFS) enable financing and application for a construction permit.
An operating demonstration plant has leached 8,000 t of ore in full-height heaps and has achieved first sales of nickel and cobalt products. This will allow the company to expand the existing demonstration plant by a factor of 10 to 1,400 t/y nickel to jump-start the project to immediate producer status without the need for a BFS.
On the process innovation front, there have recently been two major stories from Pure Minerals and Metso Outotec.
Pure Minerals has secured a A$2.55 million grant via its wholly owned subsidiary Queensland Pacific Metals Pty Ltd (QPM) for the Townsville Energy Chemicals Hub (TECH) project. QPM and project partners Direct Nickel Projects Pty Ltd (DNi) and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) successfully applied for the Federal Government grant.
The TECH project will process imported, high-grade nickel-cobalt laterite ore from New Caledonia to produce nickel sulphate, cobalt sulphate and other valuable co-products. If it proceeds it will be the first commercial application of the DNi Process™.
The next step is a pilot plant test work program on a bulk sample received from New Caledonia ore supply partners.
And, finally, Metso Outotec has introduced a new novel superheated steam sulphation process.
The process is a recent development of Metso Outotec, Finland, and has been successfully tested on a laboratory scale. It includes agglomeration of ground laterite with sulphuric acid, then superheated steam treatment at elevated temperature followed by water leaching. Nickel and cobalt are sulphated and solubilised. Iron dissolution is minimised by conversion from goethite to hematite. Sulphuric acid consumption is said to be moderate.
A paper on the process is to be presented by Metso Outotec in the ‘Nickel-Cobalt-Copper Conference’ at ALTA 2020 Online.
Pressure Acid Leaching for the production of nickel and cobalt for the battery industry is one of the key topics of the ‘Nickel-Cobalt-Copper Conference’ to be held on November 10-12 as part of ALTA 2020 Online.
This will be followed on November 13 by a short course ‘The ART of HPAL – The way of Success’. The course presenters played key roles as owner and engineering contractor in Sumitomo’s successful Coral Bay and Taganito HPAL projects in the Philippines.