AUSTRALIAN producer Direct Nickel (DNi) has successfully completed a test program on its signature nickel laterite treatment process, calling the milestone a “major step” in its strategy to become a leading global nickel producer.
Completion of the program has positioned the company for its first commercial plant, with a feasibility study underway on a nickel processing plant in Indonesia in partnership with the island nation’s largest nickel miner, PT ANTAM.
Through 2013 DNi built and operated a 1t per day test plant at CSIRO’s Australian Minerals Research Centre in Perth, using a unique process to turn nickel laterite ores into final saleable products.
The process uses nitric acid as a leaching agent and a patented recovery and recycling process to return upwards of 95 per cent of the nitric acid for re-use.
In a statement, DNi said the process offered costs of US$2 to US$3 per pound of nickel, before by-product credits, for markets like Indonesia – considerably cheaper than current processing costs.
The test program wrapped up in December last year, with a validation report delivered in February confirming its success.
DNi will now turn its focus to commercialising the process, with the plant under consideration in Indonesia expected to be capable of producing between 10,000 and 20,000 tonnes per annum of nickel in concentrate.
If given the go-ahead, the plant would be built at PT ANTAM’s Buli operation in Halmahera and would capitalise on Indonesia’s new ore export ban, which requires export markets to buy processed nickel concentrate instead of importing direct shipping ore.
DNi chief executive Russell Debney said the company’s strategy to become a leading global nickel producer had progressed materially as a result of the work at the DNi test plant.
“The completion of the nickel production demonstration program positions DNi for our first commercial plant,” he said.
“As importantly, its success will increase awareness of the availability of a commercially viable solution in the DNi process to access and process nickel laterite resources.”
Mr Debney said DNi’s decision to proceed with the feasibility study with PT ANTAM was a clear indication of both parties’ confidence in the demonstration program.
“Some of the ore for this demonstration was sourced from ANTAM’s Buli operation. For the ores tested, the demonstration program has shown the DNi process has very high recoveries of nickel, and other valuable by-products such as cobalt, hematite and magnesium oxide,” he said.