Mining behemoth BHP is stepping up investment in nickel mine development and exploration in Western Australia to become “a globally-significant battery materials supplier”.
Asset president of BHP’s Nickel West Australia mine-to-market business, Eduard Haegel, told a mining conference the group’s strategy is to secure supplies of a key battery material to supply increasing demand for electric vehicles (EVs).
And the boss of another mining company— Australia-listed Independence Group— told the Kalgoorlie Diggers and Dealers conference they too would be digging in to grow as a batteries market player.
EV lithium-ion battery cathodes with higher nickel content are seen by many as key to enabling higher energy density.
Haegel said Nickel West’s battery segment sales in the fourth quarter of 2018 were expected to double to nearly 70% of refinery sales compared to the year-ago period.
Battery segment sales have already increased steadily to date and are forecast to represent nearly 90% of refinery sales in the fourth quarter of 2019.
Haegel told Reuters on the sidelines of the conference BHP is building what is expected to be the world’s largest battery-grade nickel sulfate plant on the outskirts of Perth, Western Australia, and is boosting output to be “as self-sufficient as possible”.
The Perth plant is expected to come on line from April 2019 with capacity to produce 100,000 tonnes of nickel sulfate, accounting for some 22,000 tonnes of nickel, Haegel said.
BHP is also going ahead with a trial of cobalt sulfate production at a pilot plant aimed at eventually produce a battery-grade nickel sulfate product with low cobalt sulfate content, Haegel added.
In a related move, the Independence Group, which already has battery-linked interests via its Nova nickel mine in Western Australia, said it too is expanding exploration.
Group CEO and managing director Peter Bradford told the Kalgoorlie conference his firm’s future portfolio would “focus on minerals critical to energy storage”.
Bradford said nickel would be a “big winner from EV battery demand disruption”. An additional 300-900 kilotonnes of nickel would be required globally by 2025, he added.
Meanwhile the Africa-focused exploration company African Battery Metals said it had conditionally agreed to make two separate acquisitions. The deals would include the entire issued share capital of each of Cobalt Blue Holdings and Regent Resources Interests, “which hold highly prospective cobalt-nickel exploration assets in Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire respectively”.