Tag Archives: battery metals

TMC’s latest offshore polymetallic nodule research campaign sets sail

The Metals Company, an explorer of “lower-impact battery metals from seafloor polymetallic nodules”, has mobilised its latest offshore research campaign, Environmental Expedition 5C, which continues its investigation of the pelagic zone in its NORI-D licence area of the Clarion Clipperton Zone in the Pacific Ocean.

The company’s fourth environmental campaign this year, Expedition 5C is the latest work package in The Metals Company’s multi-year deep-sea research program intended to establish a rigorous environmental baseline and characterise the potential impacts of its proposed nodule collection operations to source critical battery metals from deep-sea polymetallic nodules, the company says.

Setting sail this week aboard the exploration vessel the Maersk Launcher, researchers from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, University of Maryland, Texas A&M and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology will conduct numerous studies over the six-week expedition to further characterise the biological species and food web structure from the ocean surface to the benthic boundary layer, just above the abyssal seafloor at depths of up to 4,500 m. In addition, researchers will continue examining the chemistry, trace metal and nutrient profiles found throughout the water column.

At the researchers’ disposal will be specialised equipment including hydrographic rosettes to collect water samples, a Saildrone autonomous vehicle and MOCNESS nets, which will be used to sample micronekton and zooplankton communities throughout the water column.

“The collection and analysis of this baseline data is a critical component of the Environmental, Social and Impact Assessment (ESIA) required to establish the state of the ecosystem as it exists prior to the commencement of nodule collection and to assist in predicting the potential effects on the surrounding environment,” Dr Michael Clarke, TMC’s Environmental Program Manager, says. “The team of researchers on this expedition are at the top of their fields and the research they produce will contribute greatly to advance society’s knowledge of the Clarion Clipperton Zone.”

TMC’s NORI-D nodule project is the first in the company’s project development pipeline. In January, The Metals Company published an upward revision to the nodule resource reported within the NORI-D area held by its subsidiary, Nauru Ocean Resources Inc (NORI), improving resource confidence from inferred to indicated status. Resource tonnage increased by 7% over the reported area from 320 Mt inferred to 341 Mt indicated. The positive conversion rates arising from infill sampling grid with quality box core sample data are high compared to the typical outcomes from infill sampling of terrestrial mineral deposits.

Canada Silver Cobalt Works enlists SGS Canada for Re-2OX pilot plant build

Canada Silver Cobalt Works has signed an agreement with SGS Canada Inc to proceed with its Re-2OX pilot plant in Ontario, Canada.

This critical step will allow the company to, it says, accelerate the production of client-specific battery metals for the North American electric vehicle (EV) market, one of its key strategies.

In 2018, SGS Lakefield used the environmentally friendly Re-2OX process to recover 99% of the cobalt and 81% of the nickel from a composite of gravity concentrates while also removing 99% of the arsenic, a long-time issue in this cobalt-rich Cobalt Camp. The gravity concentrates graded 9.25% Co, 5.65% Ni, 49.9% As and 9,250 g/t Ag.

The Re-2OX process, which skips the normal smelting process to create battery-grade cobalt sulphate, was used at SGS to produce a technical-grade cobalt sulphate hexahydrate at 22.6%, directly from cobalt-rich gravity concentrates produced from the first level of Canada Silver Cobalt Works’ Castle mine in the Cobalt Camp. The 22.6% cobalt sulphate compound exceeded the specifications required by battery manufacturers at that time, the company said.

The latest plan calls for SGS to design and build the Stage 1 pilot plant at Lakefield, Ontario. Feed material for this test work will come from the underground at the Castle mine, the high-grade silver discovery Robinson Zone, Beaver and Castle tailings, recycled batteries, and from newly acquired properties.

Management sees the Re-2OX pilot plant as a long-term strategic advantage that will facilitate the production of battery metals for the EV market for many years.

“More importantly, production can be certified as ethically sourced within stringent Canadian environmental standards and traceable verification of a closed-loop supply chain that will ensure this product is highly sought after and could even possibly garner a premium due to source verification,” the company said. “The cobalt ore will come from the Cobalt region including from the Castle property currently being aggressively drilled for high-grade silver and battery metals.”

The company has retained the services of ONSite Labs as an independent contract operator of the Temiskaming Testing Laboratories facility Canada Silver Cobalt Works acquired last year. ONSite is a commercial analytical lab operator.

Over the next four months, ONSite Labs will process samples to prove the ability to produce viable data with the highest standards of quality control, the company said, adding that the lab could be fully operational and open for business by the summer of 2021.

The Castle property is 15 km east of Pan American Silver’s Juby gold deposit, 30 km due south of Alamos Gold’s Young-Davidson mine, 75 km southwest of Kirkland Lake Gold’s Macassa Complex, and 100 km southeast of new gold discoveries in the Timmins West area.

JordProxa crystallises battery chemical market potential with Albermarle, Terrafame orders

Australia-based JordProxa Pty Ltd has recently delivered crystallisation plants for two major battery metal producers, solidifying, it says, its position in the growing new energy market.

JordProxa designed, fabricated and dispatched several large-scale orders to site, including an evaporator and two crystallisation plants to lithium producer Albemarle, in Western Australia, and nickel sulphate, cobalt sulphate and ammonium sulphate crystallisation plants to Terrafame, in Finland. The modular plants are now being installed in Western Australia and installation is underway on site in Finland with the last modules in transit (pictured above), JordProxa said.

The most recent crystallisation plant deliveries follow, in 2019, the arrival of a JordProxa nickel sulphate crystallisation plant at BHP’s Nickel West operations in Western Australia.

JordProxa Managing Director, John Warner, says the rapid uptake of battery-electric vehicles has led to a surge in demand for battery chemicals and associated technologies.

“Battery chemical producers need a technology provider that can meet and exceed the demands of product purity, with a focus on continued process improvement, to keep up with changing product specifications,” Warner said.

“JordProxa understands the process fundamentals that influence product quality through evaporation and crystallisation. We combine the project delivery skills and global footprint of Jord and Proxa and are perfectly positioned to deliver state of the art plant solutions for ultra-pure battery chemicals at large tonnage scales.”

He added: “We leverage an established network of fabrication alliances and modular design capabilities. This allows us to deliver key assemblies that are tested in the workshop before they are dispatched and installed on site. Our aim is to optimise project delivery time while minimising project risk.”

Jord International CEO, Angus Holden, said he was pleased the group is demonstrating its technical and operational expertise in the new energy market.

“Our track record over 50 years of business demonstrates that we can successfully design and build reliable plants with tangible process benefits,” he said.

“This important crystalliser work from JordProxa delivers on our goal of supporting clean energy technologies and is generating a new long-term, sustainable revenue stream. It has helped our group achieve a record revenue for the 2020 financial year, aided by other new areas of business, including enhanced minerals beneficiation and topside modules for offshore gas fields.”

Mining the energy transition and digital transformation opportunities

The mining industry is often associated with massive pits either excavated into the ground or underneath the surface, writes Andrew Berryman, President – Mining, Minerals and Metals Services, Worley.

Concern about the environmental impact of extracting minerals has existed for some time and shows no sign of abating. Despite big strides in technology, according to the World Bank, over 11% of global energy consumption comes from the mining, minerals and metals value chain. Changing this demands a serious rethink of the way minerals and metals are processed and mined.

But the challenges do not end there. The scrutiny on mining is as broad as it is concentrated, picking apart everything from corporate stewardship to the commodity mix. Shareholders are demanding better returns on less capital with a smaller environmental footprint.

The winds of change have hit mining, but blustery conditions are not always a bad thing.

The energy transition

The temptation is to jump straight to the conclusion that the energy transition is an existential threat to an emissions-intensive industry. After all, meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement depends on retiring carbon-intensive activities, doesn’t it?

It does, however, impact the movement towards low emissions technologies, such as battery storage, electrification, microgrids, wind and solar power, the mining industry is required to provide the materials needed for this shift.

As we head down the electrification and energy storage path, a different mineral mix will be required.

Many minerals will be needed for applications in the energy transition that we cannot even foresee yet.

The minerals of the low emissions future include lithium, cobalt, iron ore, manganese, aluminium, nickel, lead and graphite. But the single most important mineral that will enable electrification and electron mobility is copper. This element is critical in low emission and electric vehicles, energy transmission and storage and renewable energy technologies that harness the sun and the wind.

So, we know which minerals we need. How do we access and process them responsibly?

Understanding that mining underpins the fate of the planet, we need to consider less energy intensive ways of extracting and processing these minerals. We also need to power the process with energy that comes from renewable sources.

Our customers have growing demand for our new energy expertise to establish affordable, reliable power to these mine sites with technology at the forefront of the power sector. Technology is the biggest enabler to make the energy transition a commercially viable pathway. It is also a key ingredient to developing remote regional areas that are adjacent to mining provinces.

Throw in the digital transformation

It is offering opportunities for the progressive thinkers and grey hairs for the hesitant. Like the energy transition, digital transformation will enable some companies to evolve into mining behemoths and others to inadvertently plot their own downfall through inaction.

In spite of positive statements about digital, investment hasn’t always backed up the excitement. It is the adage of: you don’t know what you don’t know. Plus, while it pays off in the long term, innovation is time-consuming and requires change, so quantifying investment cost is hard, and returns are slow.

The industry needs to see technology as the glue that joins all elements of the physical entity, the data, knowledge components and the people who envision, create, build, test and operate the facility. There is no other glue that can stick these things together and being integrated and working together is essential for success.

Technology is already at the stage where we can tap into a virtual world and use digital twinning to build and view an end result. New parts or facilities can be incorporated into the existing world to view, test and optimise the blend of components, as well as the processes and systems used to create and operate the facility. All this can be envisaged before even committing to the development of a project.

This technology can help the industry make better investment and operating decisions and improve process controls prior to Final Investment Decision (FID). This also means the probable outcomes of embracing technology, and predicting a balanced, safe, net-zero future, can be debated as part of the FID.

Once a facility is up and running, technology also enables you to monitor its operation, make informed decisions with real-time data and allow many tasks to be performed directly by the control system, improving its own performance over time with machine learning. The assessment speed and response time helps you to keep on track, adjust performance outputs and avoid failures, all of which can contribute to a safer, cleaner and greener outcome. But it needs to be incorporated in the design phase, requiring substantial collaboration with the end user.

When the two biggest forces collide

Where there is uncertainty, there is opportunity. Then multiply that as many times as you like, because when the energy transition and digital transformation are considered in the same breath, they will turn mining on its head.

The energy transition cannot happen at the speed we need it to unless we embrace better technologies to design and run mines. At the same time, the need to improve overall sustainability and the social licence to operate remains paramount.

These technologies can assist mining companies to assess, track, collate and present the complex mix of elements that contribute to any sort of environmental or energy goal. Knowing what you have achieved is almost as powerful as achieving it. In a world where knowledge is king, a data-centric solution is key to making the right decisions towards achieving a net-zero impact.

If we can use technology to better analyse orebodies with greater accuracy, it is going to minimise the removal, transport or processing of unusable or low-grade ore, which in turn provides consistency of grade for processing. That means we can run fewer diesel trucks and consistently improve the grade of what we are supplying to the market, resulting in energy savings, potential process improvements and the overall reduction of the carbon footprint.

The opportunities for technological advances in a mining setting are endless. We can now use virtual reality for site training, 3D printing for spare parts manufacturing, predictive analytics platforms to manage safety and conduct aerial inspections of mine sites using drones. These are just some examples of digital mining processes enabling us to optimise mine operations.

This equates to increased safety, productivity and less carbon emissions, and assists the sector to do its bit in reaching the targets of the Paris Agreement and decarbonise the mining process.

Technology is the single biggest enabler of any kind of future that embraces the energy transition.

Mining techniques need to go through a revolution very quickly, but it is heartening to see the early stages of that today. We may look back at what we are doing now as baby steps, but right now, they are quantum leaps.

Vauramo looks to build on Metso’s mineral processing R&D culture

Pekka Vauramo might have only been away from the mining industry for just over a decade, but the new Metso CEO is acutely aware that the digitalisation and automation trend he saw the beginnings of during his time at Sandvik now plays a major role in planning the mines of the future.

Fortunately for Vauramo, a mining engineer by profession, he has come into this executive role at a very good time – Metso’s October-December quarter results showed an operating profit of €93 million ($105 million), or 10.4% of sales, and a 38% rise in orders received (in constant currencies) on the back of strong mining equipment demand.

IM met with Vauramo in London just after the financial results were published and asked him for his initial impressions of Metso, three months after joining from Finnair.

IM: As a group, what are the core commodities Metso focuses on?

PV: From a crushing viewpoint, it really doesn’t matter if it is iron ore, gold, copper, or nickel. Many of our customers are investing in copper right now – electric cars and battery metals are driving this. There are also ongoing investments in iron ore.

IM: What were your goals for Metso when you were appointed to the CEO role last year?

PV: The overall objective for Metso should be to grow the business. Metso has been standing still on its feet for quite some time. We have been profitable over the years and the focus has been on delivering black numbers even in difficult days; there is always value in this.

But, when looking at long-term R&D, which really lays the groundwork for organic growth, we have to increase our investments.

Metso reorganised itself during Nico’s (Delvaux, former CEO) time a year ago. The current organisation is, therefore, fairly young and, in the short term, we need to continue making sure we know what our responsibilities are within Metso and ensure we don’t lose sight of our customers. Several of our businesses have common customers and we need to be able to deliver one Metso experience.

My approach coming into the role was to validate where we are with the current way of working. My conclusion is that right now, no bigger changes are needed. We will, obviously, finetune as we go. Also, when we look at the latest results, we have no reason to change!

IM: Speaking of change, how would you say the mining equipment market has evolved since you were last at Sandvik?*

PV: Technology plays a certain role – the industry talks more about automation and we do see more automation. I was involved very early on with automation in the Sandvik days, introducing the automated underground loaders, and can still remember when we carried out the first trials. It is becoming, maybe, not the norm yet, but every new mine has the option to automate.

Then, of course, with the automation capabilities, the question is: where are the people operating or overseeing these machines? Do they have to be on the mine site, or can some of them be elsewhere? Next, it is about how much data can be obtained from the equipment and what value can be gained from the data.

Also, consolidation has happened in the business. Some of the mining companies are no longer around and bigger ones have got bigger. This junior activity in mining has been an interesting and exciting part of the business – it is still there, perhaps not to the same extent, but there are also some new names.

We see also China investing in Africa on a bigger scale. They had their first investments in Zambia when I was with Sandvik and now it owns many more mines there. Chinese companies are also in South America; it has become a much more international field.

IM: I have seen a few interviews talking about Metso’s R&D spend and how the 1% of turnover investment figure is inadequate. What do you see as an adequate % of turnover to invest? How quickly can Metso reach this level of investment?

PV: I think Metso needs to double that. But this takes some time; it is not just about money, it is about the capability and the R&D culture within the company. We have that culture, but we need to expand it. We are ramping it up – we have added more than €10 million ($11.3 million) in R&D last year and are planning to add another €10 million this year.

Also, besides the traditional R&D, we will continue to invest in digitalisation. We currently put more than €10 million into that and I’m quite sure we need to put more money into in it, too.
Currently R&D and digitalisation are in slightly different ‘boxes’, but as long as they are delivering something that helps customers to do better business, then it is all considered product development.

IM: Do you think mining companies are fully realising the potential value these digital solutions can have within their operations?

PV: Every company is doing something by itself, but where I see the industry is partially holding back is that some of the customers think this data is something they own – and rightly so.

However, I think companies like Metso could, let’s say, put some algorithms on top of the data and add value by comparing data from other places and share the relevant results with those participating without telling the secrets of others.

If I look at what other manufacturers have done over the years, it is evident that the industry is moving in this direction. From the end users’ viewpoint, it can be somewhat complicated because companies make different choices on technology and all these technologies need to be interfaced somehow into similar formats. Currently, this might be an issue as there are not really strong enough standards in the industry – yet that would help people streamline things and concentrate on the data.

IM: Will Metso’s future focus be on organic growth from R&D, as opposed to the M&A activity?

PV: There is value in both strategies, but the R&D activity is something that companies need to do continuously. In a business that is cyclical – mining being the most cyclical business we are in – those companies that invest organically in R&D during the downturn are the ones that tend to benefit most when the upturn starts. The ones that have their offering in good shape are the ones that win when it gets busy. That is also where Metso should be.

Acquisitions do play a role, but there are no easy answers there. We made several small acquisitions last year and we will continue with this. New acquisitions can be related either to the service side of the business or technology.

IM: How has climate change and sustainability impacted the way Metso develops minerals processing technology?

PV: There has been a tremendous movement since the latest climate report was published last year. Now, everyone is rightly concerned about emissions. The mining equipment we talk about is primarily electrically driven. Energy efficiency is one of our focus areas. If we broaden the topic out to water, for example, we know some of the deposits are in difficult places where major parts of the investment go into desalinating and pumping the water to the mine site. So, becoming also more water efficient is something that will be critical for mining companies.

There are always moments that stop the industry to think about what can be done to prevent accidents from happening. Our deepest sympathies go out to the ones that lost their relatives or closest ones in the Feijão dam collapse. It will change how mining is conducted and there may be some technological developments which we, as a company, can take forward.

IM: Lastly, what parallels can you draw between the mining and airline industries?

PV: They are somewhat distant industries, but both are fairly specialised; mining is something people very seldom go into just like that. You can acquaint yourself with many other jobs or businesses by just walking around in that environment, but you don’t end up doing that in a mine or an aircraft. Yes, you travel in an aircraft, but there’s much more behind the cabin you don’t know about.

In these type of businesses, people need special training and need to be selected – not everyone can work in a mine and not everyone is qualified to fly an aircraft. Both are people businesses at the end of the day: even though the operations may be automated – aircrafts might fly with the autopilot and mines might be run by an autopilot – sometimes highly-skilled human intervention is needed.

A big part of the airline business is service. It’s a very fast cycle service business, which provides a good opportunity to learn about how service works. It’s a daily routine with people spending anything from half an hour to half a day on an aircraft. When the flight is over you get quick feedback. If you look at the mining business, some of the projects take two years to sell, two years to deliver and one year to start up. It’s a long, long cycle. But, you either like the service or you don’t like it.

IM: Do you have anything else to add?

PV: Just to say, on the results, I am very grateful to our customers for, first of all, trusting us with their business. I am also very proud of our people in all the countries we are in – and in many departments such as sales and service – who have done a great job over the past year.

*Vauramo previously held several leading positions such as President, Underground Hard Rock Mining Division, President, TORO Loaders Division and President, Drills Division, at Sandvik AB from 1995-2007

Outotec continues to invest in technology as sales rise

Outotec registered a year-on-year improvement in financial performance in 2018, excluding a €110 million ($125 million) ilmenite smelter project provision, the company reported today.

The company’s sales increased 12% in 2018 to €1.28 billion, while its order intake jumped 4% to €1.25 billion. The €110 million provision for the Saudi Arabia project saw adjusted earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) come in at -€46.2 million, compared with €33.5 million in 2017, yet President and CEO, Markku Teräsvasara, said adjusted EBIT would have almost doubled to €64 million had it not been for this deduction.

“In 2018, we made significant progress in several areas,” Teräsvasara said. “In the beginning of the year, the market for minerals and metals technologies improved, but global macroeconomic uncertainties and reduced metal prices started to affect the market sentiment, and we saw several larger investment decisions being delayed into 2019.

“This was demonstrated in our order intake, which increased 4% year-on-year (in comparable currencies 8%) but declined in the fourth (December) quarter from the comparison period,” he said.

The company’s largest order in the December quarter – around €34 million – was for the delivery of battery chemicals technology in Finland for the Terrafame plant to be built in Sotkamo. The company has since followed this up with a contract in Australia to convert spodumene to lithium hydroxide.

Teräsvasara said profitability continued to improve in the Minerals Processing segment, with EBIT coming in at €78.5 million, compared with €60 million a year earlier.

Outotec said copper, gold, and battery metals projects were the most active during 2018, with demand for minerals processing equipment and spare parts stable throughout the year. In the company’s Metals, Energy & Water divisions, meanwhile, “solid demand” was registered in hydrometallurgical and pelletising solutions, as well as sulphuric acid plants, Outotec said.

Outotec said the €110 million provision related to possible costs for an ilmenite smelter project in Saudi Arabia. Back in October, the company said it was working with the client to investigate the reasons why one of the repaired furnaces in a first-of-its-kind ilmenite smelter had issues starting up.

“The currently estimated provision is based on progress made with the analysis of the furnace,” the company said today, adding that the provision was booked in its December quarter results.

Teräsvasara highlighted the “leading technologies” that were part of the company’s core strength in the 2018 results.

During the year, the company continued to develop its technological capabilities and grow its patent portfolio, with Outotec’s R&D investments representing 5% of its sales and totalling €57 million last year, he said.

Outotec went into a little more detail about this in its 2018 and Q4 review.

The first two industrial references of Outotec TankCell® e630s are running at the Buenavista del Cobre concentrator in northern Mexico, the company said.

“The site has reported an increase of more than 3% in overall recovery with a higher-grade copper concentrate. The TankCell® e630 flotation cell has a nominal volume of 630 m³ and is equipped with a FloatForce mechanism with a diameter of 2,200 mm,” Outotec said.

The company has also developed and filed a patent application for a thermal leaching process to convert spodumene concentrate into battery-grade lithium hydroxide. The lithium hydroxide process has been piloted at the Outotec Research Center in Pori for Critical Elements Corporation in Canada and Keliber Oy in Finland. Lithium hydroxide corresponds to the change in demand in the metal salt markets, it said.

Meanwhile, the new Hybrid filter plates that are 40% lighter, and, therefore, more competitive than conventional plates, were introduced to the spare and wear parts markets during 2018, Outotec said. “The new plates also improve the filtration capacity, provide low residual moisture in the cake, and reduce operational costs,” it added.

Outotec has also designed a skid-mounted, modular prefabricated sulphuric acid plant which significantly lowers the installation cost and time. In addition, the modular plant offers lower operation costs, increased availability and maintainability, as well as environmentally sound and safe operation, it said. “The innovative plant concept is based on Outotec’s technology and expertise gained from 650 plants delivered globally,” Outotec said.

Meanwhile, Outotec is in the middle of a pilot study with Sweden-based miner LKAB to treat industrial waters at its Svappavaara mine in the country. The pilot started in August and consists of nanofiltration and chemical precipitation of sulphate with Outotec’s Ettringite process. The pilot has shown sulphate concentration can be significantly reduced from the inlet value of 1,800 mg/l to the level of 150 mg/l, Outotec said.

A new digital product, Outotec Health Indicator, was also introduced last year. This produces data for flotation process control when used together with Courier on-stream elemental analysers. It enables higher performance in terms of concentrate quality and recovery of valuable minerals, according to the company.

Lastly, Outotec has been developing MesoTherm™ bio-oxidation technology for leaching base metals. The development work has shown it to be effective on certain copper sulphides, yielding 98% copper dissolution.

BASF chooses Harjavalta, Finland, for battery materials production hub

As part of BASF’s €400 million ($460 million) multi-step investment plan, it has selected Harjavalta, Finland, as the first location for a battery materials production hub serving the European automotive market.

The plant will be constructed adjacent to the nickel and cobalt refinery owned by Norilsk Nickel, which is cooperating with BASF on the supply of raw materials for future battery materials production for lithium-ion batteries in Europe.

The investment builds upon initial battery materials production started in Harjavalta this year.

Start-up of the hub is planned for late 2020, enabling the supply of approximately 300,000 full electric vehicles per year with BASF battery materials, BASF said. The new plant will use locally-generated renewable energy sources, including hydro, wind and biomass.

Additionally, BASF and Nornickel have signed a long-term, market-based supply agreement for nickel and cobalt feedstock from Nornickel’s metal refinery. BASF said: “The agreement will establish a locally sourced and secure supply of raw materials for battery production in Europe.”

Kenneth Lane, President, BASF’s Catalysts division, said: “With the investment in Harjavalta, BASF will be present in all major regions with local production and increased customer proximity further supporting the rapidly growing electric vehicle market.

“Combined with our Nornickel cooperation, we are creating a strong platform that connects the efforts between industry leaders in raw material supply and battery materials technology and production.”

Jeffrey Lou, Senior Vice President, Battery Materials at BASF, added that the company’s high-nickel cathode materials were key to delivering enhanced energy density and vehicle range to its customers.