Tag Archives: IGO Limited

FBICRC’s battery value chain plans accelerate with cathode precursor pilot plant launch

The Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre (FBICRC) has launched its flagship project – the Cathode Precursor Production Pilot Plant – in Western Australia.

Backed by 19 industry, research and government participants, the launch represents a major step in Australia’s journey to expand its presence throughout the global battery value chain, it said.

The first of its kind in Australia, the Cathode Precursor Production Pilot Plant will establish the technology and capabilities for Australia to design and build cathode precursor manufacturing facilities on a commercial and industrial scale.

The FBICRC explained: “Cathode precursors are precisely engineered materials, the highest cost component of a cell, and a crucial element of the battery value chain. The FBICRC’s report – ‘Future Charge – Building Australia’s Battery Industries’ – identified establishing an active materials manufacturing capability as an immediate priority for Australia to move up the global value chain, which could deliver A$1 billion ($672 million) to the economy and support 4,800 jobs by 2030.”

The Cathode Precursor Production Pilot Plant capitalises on Australia’s strong position in mining and its emerging battery metal refining industry. The facility will link with other FBICRC flagship projects across Australia, including the National Battery Testing Centre at the Queensland University of Technology, battery materials research at the University of Technology Sydney, electrolyte research at Deakin University and battery anode research at the University of Melbourne.

Shannon O’Rourke, CEO of the FBICRC, said: “The launch of the Cathode Precursor Production Pilot Plant is the culmination of several years of hard work, collaboration and integration by industry-leading partners and academic institutions, to progress the current and future needs of industry. We’re delighted to see this world-class facility up and running.

“The incoming government has committed to a National Battery Strategy which will help to seize local battery manufacturing opportunities. The Cathode Precursor Production Pilot Plant will be a key enabler to build an Australian manufacturing capability.”

The global battery market is expected to grow 9-10 times by 2030 and 40-fold by 2050. In a net-zero world, between now and 2050 over A$23 trillion will be spent on batteries, according to the FBICRC. Australia is positioned to capture more of this value given it has leading resources of all raw materials required to make high performance batteries – nickel, cobalt, manganese, graphite and lithium.

Cathode precursor materials are further processed to create cathodes in the battery cell. The performance, durability, safety, and operating envelope of a cell are impacted by the properties of precursor materials. Composition, shape, and surface properties must be controlled closely to ensure a cell performs reliably over many years.

Over 18-months, the plant will run a series of test campaigns through four fully integrated and automated P-CAM production units, provided by BASF. The four units will enable the Cathode Precursor Production Pilot Plant to run different compositions and ratios of chemistries simultaneously, or to run the same chemistries under four different conditions, changing variables such as temperature, pH or stirring rate. Produced P-CAM is then lithiated, calcined and electrochemically tested at the FBICRC-funded Electrochemical Testing Facility at the Queensland University of Technology.

BHP Nickel West has also provided equipment for the precursor facility, repurposed from its nickel sulphate pilot plant.

The Cathode Precursor Production Pilot Plant will not only deliver the technical capabilities required to build commercial scale P-CAM manufacturing facilities, it will help educate and upskill the next generation for a future battery industry, it said.

O’Rourke concluded: “Australia has the potential to develop into a competitive player in the international batteries industry. The Pilot Plant launch is a significant step in developing the on-shore capabilities and industry knowledge to create thousands of jobs and add billions of dollars to our economy.”

Jessica Farrell, Asset President, Nickel West, said: “The launch of the Cathode Precursor Pilot Plant is a vital step towards developing a future growth industry here in Western Australia. The launch of this plant, made possible through the repurposing of equipment from our nickel sulphate pilot plant, will allow the FBICRC and the State Government to explore further options for a downstream battery materials manufacturing industry. This is another exciting step for BHP as a major supplier of nickel, a commodity highly sought after by car and battery manufactures across the globe.”

Project participants include: BASF Australia Limited, BHP Nickel West, Queensland University of Technology, Curtin University, CSIRO, Minerals Research Institute of Western Australia, University of Technology Sydney, HEC Group Pty Ltd, JordProxa Pty Ltd, Ardea Resources Limited, IGO Limited, Blackstone Minerals Limited, Cobalt Blue Holdings Limited, Calix Limited, Alpha HPA Limited, Lycopodium Limited, ChemX Materials Limited, EV Metals Group PLC and Allkem Ltd (formerly Galaxy Resources Limited).

Maptek machine learning trial points to future of mineral deposit modelling

A trial of Maptek DomainMCF at an underground metals mine has concluded that machine learning will most likely become the preferred modelling method for mineral deposits, according to the software company.

DomainMCF is a platform that Maptek says will ‘put the geology back into geologists’, applying deep learning and big data computing methods to generate domain boundaries directly from drill hole sample data. Such rapid generation of resource models is a game changer for operations, according to Maptek.

In the trial of DomainMCF, geologists at the IGO Limited Nova-Bollinger underground mine in Western Australia trialled the solution’s machine-learning tools for modelling its resource.

Nova-Bollinger is 700 km due east of Perth, with the operation mining and processing nickel-copper-cobalt sulphide ores.

Traditional resource modelling is based on a drill hole database containing 99 lithological and 11 sulphide mineralisation logging codes. From this database the mine geologists use implicit modelling to interpret 22 different domains – 21 sulphide domains and one all-encompassing waste halo domain.

The block modelling process is undertaken annually by a team of geologists on site and in the Perth corporate office, taking several months to complete. The team trialled DomainMCF in parallel to the standard workflow as part of the 2020 resource update.

The required inputs for DomainMCF are a csv file comprising drill hole database or composite data, and an optional upper and lower surface to define the spatial extents of the region to be modelled. A block model parameter file details the origin of the block model, the 3D spatial extents and the block/sub-block dimensions.

Grade estimates are done on a 6 m x 6 m x 2 m block size and sub-blocks are permitted down to a quarter of the parent block size, according to Maptek.

During the trial, three primary tests were run using different versions of the drill hole file to explore the capabilities of the application and see how they compared to the existing workflow.

Test 1 provided DomainMCF with the drill hole composite file for the 22 different domains. Six chemical elements (Ni, Cu, Co, Fe, Mg and S) were provided to assist with the training phase of the machine-learning algorithm.

For Test 2, the data used in the first test was augmented with lithology coded data from the drill hole information outside the estimation boundary limits. The chemical variables were again used to help train the algorithm.

The purpose of this test was to determine if a combined sulphide and lithological model could be produced, and to see if giving DomainMCF additional information would impact the prediction of sulphide domains.

A hands-off approach was used in Test 3 to see how DomainMCF modelled a file containing only mineralisation codes and the grouped lithology used for Test 2. None of the domain codes from Test 1 were used.

Test 3 examined if the DomainMCF model was comparable with a manually-coded domain model and whether it was useful in the mineral resource estimate process.

IGO Senior Mine Geologist, Fletcher Pym, presented the trial results in a paper to the AusIMM International Mining Geology Conference 2022 in March.

“We were able to run Test 3, which was a relatively complicated model, in 45 minutes,” Pym said.

For Pym, Test 3 also showed that machine learning can produce very comprehensive models without the strong influence of a geologist.

Because machine learning made resource modelling much faster, senior staff had more time to focus on training less experienced core loggers. Improving the processes resulted in better quality drill hole logging, according to Maptek.

Pym added: “Machine learning will become particularly attractive if the process can not only model geological domains, but also return reliable grade estimates for mine planning across the full range of mineralisation styles.

DomainMCF model section

“Providing a well-understood confidence measure can assist in risk quantification of both geology and grade.”

The study, Maptek says, highlighted several advantages of machine learning:

  • The inputs required for machine-learning processing can be readily prepared in most resource modelling software;
    Machine learning modelling times are relatively short;
  • The pay-by-use business model is more cost-effective than maintaining implicit modelling software systems;
  • The machine learning model returns an objective measure of uncertainty in the geological model, which is likely to be useful in mineral resource classification and mining reconciliation work; and
  • Multiple different geological models can be prepared in parallel, meeting the JORC requirement to investigate ‘the effect, if any, of alternative interpretations on mineral resource estimation’.

Maptek Technical Lead for DomainMCF, Steve Sullivan, says he is excited at the potential of machine learning for revolutionising resource modelling.

“I’m amazed at the response – we are already seeing companies subscribe to DomainMCF for use in domain modelling for their 2022 resource reports,” he said.

“Machine learning works best when all the available data is presented, as shown in Test 3. The more data the better.

“The industry is struggling to find experienced personnel during the current mining boom, so embedding years of experience into smart systems helps get the job done on time and under budget.”

Maptek continues to work on proposed enhancements following feedback from industry trials of DomainMCF, with grade trend prediction added in the March 2022 release.

This is an edited version of an article that appeared in Maptek’s Forge newsletter.

Australia’s FBI CRC backs Mine Electrification project

Experts led by the University of Adelaide are looking to help the mining industry find a pathway to more efficient, green, sustainable and safer mining operations by transitioning to battery-supported electric vehicles (BEVs).

In a new project funded by the Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre (FBI CRC), researchers are providing the Australian mining industry with a suite of decision-making tools and guidelines that will aid their transition towards BEVs and associated stationary machinery in their mining operations, the FBI CRC said.

“About 30-50% of the total mine site energy usage is related to diesel-powered mining vehicles,” Dr Ali Pourmousavi Kani, the University of Adelaide’s, Lecturer, School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, said. “This represents a significant proportion of current mining operational costs, and the prevalence of diesel fuel usage presents significant health and safety concerns.

“Mining is a critical industry in Australia. It is great to see a growing movement in this industry to reduce their carbon emissions in line with the global transition to renewable energy and electric transportation. Electric vehicles and machinery, combined with partial or standalone renewable energy powered microgrids, will provide a pathway to more efficient, sustainable and safer mining operations.”

Dr Pourmousavi Kani will work on the project, named ‘Assessment, Design and Operation of Battery-Supported Electric Mining Vehicles and Machinery’, or Mine Electrification for short, with Associate Professor, Wen Soong, and Associate Professor, Nesimi Ertugrul, who are also from the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

The project was developed in conjunction with and funded by the FBI CRC and its participants which are: BHP Nickel West, IGO Limited, Energetics Pty Ltd, Galaxy Resources Limited, Multicom Resources Limited, the South Australian Department for Energy and Mining, Queensland’s Department of Energy and Public Works, the Minerals Research Institute of Western Australia and the University of Western Australia.

The project, which has a budget of approximately A$2.76 million ($2.02 million), of which A$1.16 million is in cash and the remainder in-kind support, and lasts for 3.5 years, will, the FBI CRC says, enable the resources sector to:

  • Reduce the costs and improve the reliability of energy;
  • Improve occupational health and safety; and
  • Reduce the carbon footprint of production.

“The project will allow mining companies to understand the benefits and technical risks and costs of implementation,” Dr Pourmousavi Kani said.

“It will also assist equipment, technology and service providers to service mining companies during the transition to BEVs. End users will benefit from a de-risked strategy to transition, reduced production costs, reduced energy costs, reduced emissions and an upskilled work force.

“Overall, this project will help the Australian mining industry to remain competitive globally by greening their production and lowering their operational costs.”

Dr Jacques Eksteen, a Research Director of the FBICRC, said: “This project is highly significant for the FBI CRC as it serves as an important development and demonstration project of the uptake of battery technologies in mining vehicles and mobile equipment.

“This application of battery technology offers significant potential benefits to industry, and we are keen to invest in developing and enhancing capability in the field of mobile mine electrification.”

South Australia’s Minister for Energy and Mining, Dan van Holst Pellekaan, added: “Sustainable mining operations is a focus for South Australia, and the Mine Electrification project demonstrates our leadership and ability to collaborate as we work towards reducing our carbon emissions.”