Pure Battery Technologies believes it has a cost effective and clean way of producing nickel and cobalt products for the battery sector just as demand for both metals has started to accelerate.
PBT is commercialising the patented Selective Acid Leaching (SAL) process developed by the University of Queensland, which involves leaching and solvent extraction of mixed hydroxide precipitate (MHP), an intermediate nickel laterite product.
The SAL process produces strong, clean separation of nickel and cobalt, a reduction in the use of reagents and eliminates the need for solvents, diluents and modifiers, according to PBT. Such a technology is of increasing importance considering rising demand for these metals from the electric vehicle sector.
The Queensland-based company believes the nickel laterite processing sector is changing, and it will benefit from such change.
Ferronickel smelting and the Caron process are still used in the sector, but PBT says the former recovers no cobalt and requires high-grade ore, while the latter comes with low nickel and cobalt recoveries – less than 80% and 60%, respectively – and is energy intensive.
Acid leaching of laterite ores, which is required to produce MHP, produces high nickel and cobalt recoveries and demands less power, according to the company.
The company has seen material compounds for renewable energy batteries already being sourced from MHP and sees EV battery chemistry into the future moving towards higher nickel content products.
This is why PBT is pinning its hopes on the SAL process, which when followed by the Reductive Acid Selective Cobalt Leach process, can produce cobalt salts and cobal-nickel-manganese concentrate precursors “perfect for LI-NCM battery electrodes”, the company says.
PBT has already carried out testing of the SAL process with several high profile MHP producers including Vale, First Quantum Minerals, Highlands Pacific and Teck Resources.
The next steps for PBT are to conduct a feasibility study for a demonstration plant that can show off the process. Bjorn Zikarsky, CEO of PBT, told IM this plant would most likely be located in Australia and would produce 5,000-20,000 tonne per year of nickel.
While capex and opex numbers are yet to be disclosed, Zikarsky said the SAL process is “significantly” less expensive on both fronts than conventional processing of MHP.
Further down the line, the company could apply some of its technology to low-grade ore or tailings projects, according to Zikarsky, and PBT also has long-term ambitions of recycling battery minerals and, potentially, acquiring mining assets.
“We do believe we are, in the end, a very competitive recycler for NMC cathode material and possibly tailings recovery,” he said.