The Townsville Energy Chemical Hub (TECH) Project envisages the development of a new refinery in the northern Queensland town processing 600,000 tonnes of laterite ore a year to produce 25,000 tonnes of nickel sulphate and 3,000 tonnes of cobalt sulphate plus other valuable co-products such as hematite and alumina.
Ore will be imported under long-term supply agreements already negotiated with two New Caledonian mining companies and is expected to grade 1.6% nickel and 0.17% cobalt, which compares favourably to similar projects (operating and slated for development) in Australia.
TECH will employ the processing technology developed and patented by Direct Nickel Projects Pty Ltd, the DNi Process™, which should result in lower capex and opex for the project compared to other nickel laterite processing operations that employ high pressure acid leaching (HPAL) technology.
With exploration and mining risk minimised via the ore supply agreements, it is anticipated that the Company can move rapidly through to a Final Investment Decision and commence development in a much shorter timeframe than typical mining projects.
Through its wholly owned QPM subsidiary, Pure Minerals has secured a binding ore supply agreement to purchase 600,000 tonnes of nickel-cobalt ore per annum for an initial five-year period from Societe des Mines de la Tontouta (SMT) and Socitee Miniere Georges Montagnat S.A.R.L (SMGM), established New Caledonian mining companies.
The minimum grade of the ore to be supplied under the agreement is 1.4% nickel and 0.15% cobalt, but from discussions with SMT/SMGM, it is apparent that the grade of delivered ore is likely to exceed these minimums, in line with historic grades of ore exported to Townsville.
The price payable by Pure Minerals will be indexed to LME nickel and cobalt prices and the term can be extended beyond the initial five year-period by mutual agreement.
The company has also secured exploration ground in the Marlborough region of northern Queensland prospective for nickel and cobalt that may provide additional sources of ore in the future.
|Ore Suppliers||Societe des Mines de la Tontouta (“SMT“)
Societe MinereGeorges Montagnat S.A.R.L (“SMGM“)
|Ore Source||From, but not limited to, any of three operating mines located in New Caledonia|
|Minimum ore grade to be supplied||Nickel > 1.4%
Cobalt > 0.15%
(From discussions with SMT/SMGM, expected grade to exceed contractual minimums, in line with export history to Townsville detailed below)
|Term||5 years from the date of first ore shipping of first ore (being not before June 2020), extendable by mutual agreement|
|Tonnes||600,000 tonnes Ni-Co ore per annum commencing from the commencement of the Term|
|Price||Indexed to the Nickel and Cobalt LME price|
The ore supply agreement is conditional on the following:
For the first stage of processing the laterite ore imported from New Caledonia, TECH will employ the DNi Process™ developed by Direct Nickel Projects Pty Ltd.
The DNi Process™ uses nitric acid to dissolve and recover all saleable metals from ore. In TECH’s case, the metals will be contained in an intermediate product, mixed hydroxide precipitate (MHP).
As the DNi ProcessTM takes place under atmospheric pressure and nitric acid does not attack stainless steel, the materials for plant construction are inexpensive and easily source. Ninety-five per cent of the nitric acid used can also be recycled, helping to lower operating costs.
For stage two of processing, Pure Minerals has partnered with the CSIRO to produce nickel sulphate and cobalt sulphate from the MHP produced through the DNi Process™. The flowsheet for the CSIRO process is featured on the right:
Townsville’s long history of importing and processing laterite ore from New Caledonia means it is readily equipped to service a new refinery development such as TECH.
Since 1989, more than 50 million wet tonnes of New Caledonian ore have come through the port of Townsville for processing at the Queensland Nickel Refinery, and the rest of the region’s infrastructure is suitably established to support this kind of industrial activity.
The town hosts a strong engineering support industry, while critical inputs for processing such as sulphuric acid and nitric acid are produced nearby.
Since the closure of Queensland Nickel in 2016, Townsville and the surrounding region have been crying out for new projects to create jobs and spur economic development. The state government has recognised this, contributing financially to an upgrade of the port and rail services in the region.
There are hopes that Townsville could emerge as an Australian innovation and manufacturing hub, with consortium Imperium3 planning to build a battery gigafactory in the town. TECH would provide the perfect complement to that kind of development.
Scoping Study Highlights
|Nickel Sulphate||25,000tpa (5,678t contained nickel)|
|Cobalt Sulphate||3,000tpa (639t contained cobalt)|
Stage 1: DNi™ Process to produce intermediate MHP product
Stage 2: CSIRO Process to upgrade MHP to battery chemicals
|Capex||US$297M (includes 20% contingency)|
$0.93/lb nickel (after co-product credits)