Australian Mines commences construction of demonstration-size HPAL + SX plant

Australian Mines Ltd has engaged one of Australia’s leading hydrometallurgical and processing companies, The Simulus Group, to begin construction of a A$2 million demonstration-size cobalt-nickel-scandium processing plant in Perth, Western Australia.

  • Construction has commenced on a demonstration-size HPAL + SX plant in Perth to produce off-take samples of cobalt sulphate, nickel sulphate and scandium oxide to progress negotiations with potential customers
  • Capable of processing over 15 t/week of ore and deliver 67 kg of cobalt sulphate, 500 kg of nickel sulphate and 8 kg of scandium oxide each week from the Sconi project
  • First commercial grade, saleable cobalt, nickel and scandium products scheduled to be delivered in November 2017
  • Invitation for interested parties including institutional investors, sovereign funds, brokers and analysts to tour plant during construction and operational phases.

The plant, which uses a conventional high-pressure acid leach (HPAL) front end to dissolve the metals into solution (being much the same method used by Vale at its Goro mine in New Caledonia, for example) with a solid-liquid separation and standard SX and sulphate crystallisation back end to separate out the cobalt, nickel and scandium to produce final products.

The fabrication and build time for this processing plant is estimated at six months, resulting in the plant being fully operational and processing bulk samples of ore from the company’s Sconi cobalt-nickel-scandium project and Flemington cobalt-scandium-nickel project by November this year.

This impressively short build time is a direct result of Australian Mines using standard, readily-available processing equipment sourced from dedicated HPAL/SX suppliers, coupled with an established processing flow chart that is already being used at a number of large-scale commercial operations around the world.

With a throughput capacity of 2,200 kg/d, this plant, when run on a continuous basis, has the potential to deliver a weekly output of:

  • 67 kg of cobalt sulphate (CoSO4.6H2O)
  • 500 kg of nickel sulphate (NiSO4.6H2O)
  • 8 kg of scandium oxide (Sc203)2.

This plant, once operational later this year, will result in Australian Mines being one of the only emerging cobalt companies in Australia producing cobalt sulphate and nickel sulphate products for potential off-take customers from the vehicle battery and cobalt trading sectors, as well as producing scandium oxide destined for an interested European auto-manufacturer and a number of other parties interested in producing high strength weldable aluminum.

Importantly, the demonstration-sized HPAL + SX plant was been designed in such a way to make it readily scaleable to a full-size plant. This allows Australian Mines to optimise the processing flow chart and metal recoveries at this smaller scale prior to the design and construction of the larger 750,000 t/y plant, which is currently proposed to be built at Sconi once the company’s BFS has been completed and funding secured.

Commenting on the construction of the processing plant, Managing Director Ben Bell said: “With the company’s on-going engagement with potential cobalt, nickel and scandium customers across Europe, Asia and the Middle East, it became apparent that the quickest path to progressing those negotiations was to go-ahead and produce samples to reinforce certainty around expected product quality.”

“The reason for constructing the demonstration-size plant in Perth was due to the relevant metallurgical expertise available in Western Australia, including The Simulus Group some of whose staff were involved in the early operating stage at Glencore’s Murrin Murrin nickel and cobalt operation.

“I am very pleased with the construction and processing proposal put forward by Simulus and I look forward to working with their team to prove-up the Australian Mines cobalt, nickel and scandium product suite.”

“In addition to potential off-take customers, Australian Mines welcomes representatives of institutional investors, sovereign funds, brokers and analysts to tour this demonstration plant once construction is completed, to see first-hand the processing of the ore and to handle the actual cobalt sulphate, nickel sulphate and scandium oxide products produced from this operation.”

Australian Mines announced on 10 October 2016 that it had entered into a joint venture agreement with Metallica Minerals Ltd to earn up to a 75% interest in the advanced Sconi cobalt-nickel-scandium project. That day, Australian Mines also announced it had entered into an Option Agreement with Jervois Mining Ltd to acquire 100% of the Flemington cobalt-scandium-nickel project near Fifield in New South Wales.