Nickel Industry Situation
Laterite Ores to Dominate Nickel Supply
Laterite nickel ores are a rapidly growing and already dominant source of nickel metal units compared to sulphide ores. Indonesia will continue to be the largest global nickel producer after having surpassed the Philippines in 2017. Indonesia is slated to be the best performing producer in terms of growth during 2018 – 2027.
To date, Indonesia has not been recognised as a producer of cobalt (nor related battery industry metals such as scandium, manganese, lithium etc..). This is mainly due to most of the laterite ore being sold or processed is for the ferro-nickel / stainless steel industry which consumes over 70% of nickel units produced world-wide. Indonesia with its abundant high grade saprolite resources will continue to grow and lead the world in ferro-nickel and nickel pig Iron (NPI) production.
Within Asia, battery materials are currently only produced in the Philippines (Sumitomo-Nickel Asia JV) and in PNG (Ramu JV). Indonesia is noticeably absent. The battery industry will become a major off taker of nickel and cobalt as the electric vehicle and stationery battery markets grow exponentially. Both Indonesia and the Philippines are well positioned to become the dominant sources of battery and related metals to meet future demand.
Incumbent Nickel Leaching and Smelting Technologies are Technically Challenging & High Cost - try the EML Way!
Nickel leaching technologies such as the HPAL process are complex to operate, have high capital costs, take a long time to ramp up to full capacity and can only process limonite ores. The high capital costs required means only industry majors can afford the costs. This prevents the smaller tenement owners from ever participating in the value-added processing of laterite ores for the battery sector, unless in a JV with a larger financial partner.
Typical heap leaching of laterite ores is a cheaper alternative to HPAL but requires large tracts of flat land for the heaps, and leach times can extend to over 400 days. Furthermore, in tropical climates, the high rainfall and in places, periodic typhoons, detrimentally impacts the operations. ‘Raincoats’ on the heaps can help but then introduce another set of problems.