BHP appears to be very much on board the battery minerals train after confirming this week at the Diggers and Dealers conference in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, that it was likely to become a nickel sulphate producer within the next year.
The company is currently in the process of developing a nickel sulphate line to its Nickel West Kwinana refinery in Western Australia. The first stage project, to 100,000 t/y, will start to come online from April 2019, and the company has plans to double this to 200,000 t/y through stage two.
At the Diggers & Dealers conference on Monday, BHP Nickel West President Eduard Haegel said all regulatory approvals for the refinery project had been received and the project, which will rely heavily on automation, is starting to accelerate.
The company has a mini plant at the CSIRO facility in Perth where it has tested the process design to prove up around 100 kg/d of battery-grade product. These samples will shortly be distributed to potential future customers.
In addition to its future nickel sulphide production – Nickel West is already the largest producer of nickel powder and briquettes – the company is testing out producing cobalt sulphate within a mixed sulphate product.
Nickel West’s ambitions in the battery minerals space to 2040 are supported by a 6.2 Mt contained nickel resource base in Western Australia.
The Mt Keith Satellite project (Yakabindie) will be the first of a series of new developments at the company’s WA assets, with mining set to commence in the first half of next year.
Betheno, just north of Yakabindie, could be the company’s next Mt Keith development, with potential for production of iron-rich nickel sulphides, compared with other nearby deposits.
The company also has preliminary plans for two pit cutbacks at Mt Keith, while it has commenced a “concept” study to expand the Mt Keith concentrator from 40,000 t/y to 50,000 t/y. This is likely to require a third SAG mill to reach 45,000 t/y capacity and gradual replacement of flotation cells with larger capacity modern technology to hit 50,000 t/y.
Its 40,000 t/y Leinster concentrator, currently operating under capacity, also factors into this expansion with more ore set to initially come from the Venus deposit and, then, the B11 underground block cave development.