Comet Resources has launched a scoping study into building a pilot plant to test a potential new nickel processing breakthrough, Director Hugh Morgan said on the final day of the Paydirt 2019 Africa Downunder mining conference in Perth, Australia.
The company’s Titan nickel project, in Nigeria, is one of those rare discoveries where the metal is contained within super small clusters of “balls” that cannot be conventionally processed. This is the reason the company is launching the new study.
If successful, the new processing route could unlock the mining future for the project, which has reportedly seen nickel balls visible at surface that contain 95% Ni metal.
Speaking on the third and final day of the conference, Morgan said a company called WildIP had patented a new metal extraction process thought applicable to the Titan metallurgy. A royalty-free licence to use the process has been granted to Comet specifically for the Titan project and a pilot plant scoping study using the technology is now underway, according to Morgan.
“WildIP’s Ni metal digestion process uses low temperature and low cost reagents,” Morgan said. “It’s environmentally benign digest liquor has proved to be 100% effective and efficient and can be recycled, meaning cheaper processing costs and less water requirements.
“This potentially points to the opportunity not to have a tailings dam on a mine site and for any dried residue to be used for backfill,” Morgan said.
The new approach also allows the pregnant liquid to be precipitated to produce whatever nickel product is required such as nickel sulphate hydroxide, according to Morgan.
He said the breakthrough had broad application to metals and was particularly effective for nickel metal and other nickel ore types including laterites. But it could also extract other metals including gold, platinum, palladium, copper and silver, with initial testing of some gold ore types returning 100% gold extractions.
Comet discovered the deposition at Titan about four years ago as a new “ball-style” of native nickel metal. The balls comprise 95% nickel and are disseminated in the host rock at a grade estimated at between 1.5-3% Ni, the company says.
Morgan acknowledged the normal process would have been to start a drill out to define the mineralised body at Titan and to assess its grade and depth extent and then move to mining – but it was found the nickel balls were insoluble by conventional digestion methods, forcing a hunt for a new processing solution.
“Physical extraction was one possible method but would have resulted in only 25% recovery of the Ni metal as 70% of the balls are too fine to physically extract and many balls are buoyant and floated off in conventional processing tests.
“It was clear to us that without a wet chemistry process, we could only extract 25% of the metal.
“The new breakthrough maintains our conviction that there continues to be a reasonable expectation of developing Titan into a world-class Ni deposit able to rival the world’s largest and important Ni mines.”