BHP produces first nickel sulfate in WA
Nickel West plant offers new source of battery-grade material Metal Tech News - October 1, 2021
Last updated 7/12/2022 at 1:11pm
BHP Group has produced the first nickel sulfate crystals at its Nickel West plant in Western Australia, a milestone that is good news for electric vehicle and lithium-ion manufacturers, especially Tesla Inc.
Once running at full capacity, this nickel sulfate plant south of Perth is slated to produce 100,000 metric tons of the 99.99% pure nickel sulfate needed for lithium-ion batteries each year.
"BHP's nickel sulphate plant is the first of its kind in Australia and will produce enough premium nickel sulphate to make 700,000 electric vehicle batteries each year," said BHP Nickel West Asset President Jessica Farrell. "High quality and sustainable nickel is essential for our customers, and we expect demand for nickel in batteries will increase by 500% in the next decade."
One of those customers will be Tesla, which cut a deal earlier this year to acquire an undisclosed amount of the critical battery material from BHP's Nickel West operation.
More information on the agreement can be read at Tesla, BHP strike revolutionary nickel deal in the July 22, 2021 edition of Metal Tech News.
The nickel sulfide plant is the latest addition to BHP's larger nickel mining complex in Western Australia that includes the Mt. Keith, Cliffs and Leinster nickel mining operations; a smelter at Kalgoorlie that produces nickel-in-matte; and the Kwinana refinery, which produces nickel metal as powder or briquettes.
Nickel powder coming out of the refinery is then processed through the new plant to make nickel sulfate that will be exported to global battery markets from Fremantle Harbor, site of the largest and busiest cargo port in Western Australia.
This nickel sulfate has two primary environmental advantages expected to make it highly demanded by battery and automakers.
The first advantage is the sulfide ore being mined at Nickel West, which is more easily converted to battery-grade nickel sulfate than laterite ores that require a costly and environmentally questionable high-pressure acid leach (HPAL) process to produce the same quality material.
The second advantage is minimizing the carbon footprint of the nickel it is producing in Western Australia through the installation of a photovoltaic solar plant that will provide 50% of the Kwinana refinery's electricity requirements.
"BHP produces some of the lowest carbon intensity nickel in the world, and we are on the pathway to net-zero at our operations," BHP Minerals Australia President Edgar Basto said in July. "Sustainable, reliable production of quality nickel will be essential to meeting demand from sustainable energy producers like Tesla Inc."
Adding the sulfate plant to BHP's nickel operations is good news for Western Australia, which has its sites set on becoming a world leader in battery minerals, materials, technology, and expertise.
"Nickel is essential to decarbonization and WA has some of the largest and highest-grade nickel sulfide deposits in the world, in addition to leading mining and mineral expertise," said Western Australia State Development, Jobs and Trade Minister Roger Cook. "Significant economic gains can be achieved for WA by building on our strengths in mining to diversify our activities into other segments of the battery value chain, including more onshore materials processing and manufacturing."
Toward this goal of diversifying into other segments of the battery supply chain, in August, the Western Australia government announced an AU$13.2 million (US$9.6 million) funding program to attract a global cathode materials manufacturer to establish a production facility in the state.
As part of the larger WA Recovery Plan, this funding will include incentives to offset project costs aimed at bolstering Western Australia's position in future battery minerals, materials, technology, and expertise in global battery supply chains.
The state's battery minerals aspirations are expected to get an additional boost from an AU$2 billion (US$1.44 billion) loan facility for mining and processing critical minerals in Australia that was announced by the federal government on Sept. 28.
"The global growth in demand for critical minerals to be used in the production of the latest technologies represents an incredible opportunity for Australia to utilize its natural resources and world-leading mining know-how to become a leader in the extraction, processing and supply of critical minerals," said Australia Minister for Trade, Tourism, and Investment Dan Tehan.
This large federal lending facility will be an important pillar of the federal government's larger critical minerals strategy.
More information on the AU$2 billion federal loan facility can be read at Australia backs critical minerals sector at Metal Tech News.
Already the world's fourth-largest producer of nickel, and a major producer of other critical metals such as lithium and cobalt, Western Australia is poised to leverage the federal loans to further unlock its potential.
"WA is the only state to have a clear strategy supporting the development of a world-leading future battery industry that will create jobs and benefit regional communities," said Western Australia Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Johnston.
With the first nickel sulfate produced at Nickel West, Western Australia is one step closer to meeting the objectives of this larger strategy.