Following an 18-month construction and commissioning period, continuous nickel production has begun at privately held UK company Brazilian Nickel’s Piauí nickel project (PNP) in Brazil, which is the world’s first standalone nickel laterite heap leaching operation.
In 2016 and 2017, Brazilian Nickel successfully demonstrated large-scale heap leaching, purification and recovery of nickel and cobalt from Piauí ore. The company has since expanded the existing demonstration plant to develop the PNP1000 operation.
The production guidance from PNP1000 for 2022 was 300 t of nickel and 3 t of cobalt, with expected yearly production guidance in 2023 to reach 1 400 t of nickel and 35 t of cobalt.
The company said that this would be the first step towards much higher production rates later on.
“Although only a junior mining company with a small team and budget, we have successfully put the PNP1000 into operation. We are . . . bringing online a new stream of critical metals . . . where there is a growing need for a secure supply of nickel and cobalt, which is required in green technologies, such as electric vehicles and solar panels,” Brazilian Nickel CEO Mike Oxley said.
The PNP1000 operation has provided 215 jobs, of which more than 70% have been filled by residents of the local communities.
“They have shown how the simplicity of the heap leach processes can lead to rapid commissioning and start-up, such that the challenge of supplying ever-increasing demand for nickel to global markets can be met,” Oxley said.
During the construction phase of the PNP1000 operation, Brazilian Nickel held regular meetings with key local stakeholders and leaders that developed a training course scheme that was offered to 120 local participants, 80 of which were hired for PNP1000 operations.
Further work still needs to be completed on the cobalt circuit over the next four to six months. As there is much less cobalt in the ore than nickel, Oxley said it would take some time for cobalt tenors in solution to reach the required levels for cobalt hydroxide production to begin. A further announcement on the start of cobalt hydroxide production is expected later this year.
The PNP1000 operation is expected to help establish and develop the downstream marketing of Brazilian Nickel’s products. The company said that it would also continue to seek opportunities to further reduce carbon dioxide emissions at the project.
“Producing nickel in nickel hydroxide product from our low carbon process will help . . . combat climate change,” Brazilian Nickel technical director Anne Oxley said, adding that the knowledge and skills that were developed through the process would contribute to the final delivery of the larger Piauí operation that has been planned.