The Kwinana plant, south of Perth, has produced its first nickel sulphate crystals, mining major BHP announced on Friday, stating that it was an “Australian first”.
The plant would produce 100 000 t/y of nickel sulphate, enough premium product to make 700 000 electric vehicle batteries each year, BHP Nickel West asset president Jessica Farrell said in a statement.
She added that BHP expected demand for nickel in batteries to increase by 500% in the next decade.
“Our investment to upgrade the refinery to produce high-purity nickel sulphate, along with nickel powder and briquettes, will enhance Nickel West’s position as a supplier of choice for the growing global electric battery market,” said Farrell.
The plant would create 80 new direct jobs and support 400 new indirect jobs, in addition to the 200 construction jobs that were created during the construction phase.
More than half of the plant was fabricated in Western Australia using local skills and suppliers. This included the steel work, fibreglass leach vessels and stainless steel tanks.
The plant consists of leaching tanks, purification technology, a crystalliser and dryer and an automated packaging system.
Nickel from BHP’s mines is processed at the Kalgoorlie nickel smelter, before it is transported to the Kwinana nickel refinery and refined into nickel metal (in the form of powder or briquettes). Nickel powder is then processed through the new sulphate plant to make nickel sulphate. The nickel sulphate will be exported to global battery markets from the Port of Fremantle.
BHP’s Nickel West employs more than 2 500 people and its operations include a fully integrated mine-to-metal business.
This includes opencut and underground mining operations in Western Australia; concentrators at Mt Keith, Leinster and Kambalda; a smelter at Kalgoorlie that produces nickel-in-matte; and the Kwinana refinery which produces nickel metal as powder or briquettes, and now a nickel sulphate plant that will convert nickel powder into nickel sulphate for the battery market.