Several global metals producers have set their sights on Indonesia’s nickel reserves to tap an expected surge in demand for the metal for electric vehicle batteries. Sumitomo Metal Mining Co Ltd (SMM) said that it and nickel miner PT Vale Indonesia are conducting a feasibility study to build a nickel processing project in Pomalaa, Southeast Sulawesi.
A spokesman for Vale said the plant would make an intermediate nickel and cobalt product that would then be processed into nickel sulphate for batteries. Major nickel producers are taking a closer look at Indonesia whose large nickel laterite ore reserves are already prized for nickel pig iron used in stainless steel production.
Indonesia’s nickel ore has largely been overlooked by battery producers, as extracting the high purity nickel they need from it requires plants that are more costly and difficult to operate than conventional nickel smelters.
That could change if producers are willing to plough investments into high pressure acid leach (HPAL) plants. The plants, which use heat and pressure to remove the nickel and cobalt from the ore, are regarded as technically challenging and expensive but produce high quality metal.
Xiao Fu, Head of Commodity Market Strategy at BOC International, said on the sidelines of Asian Nickel conference this week that the EV market “could represent growth opportunities in Indonesia” and attract interest from Chinese battery makers.
Vale Indonesia is working on obtaining environmental permits for the proposed 40,000-tonne smelter which will process ore extracted using high-pressure acid leaching (HPAL), Business Development Manager Steve Brown said on the sidelines of the conference.
Chinese stainless steel-maker Tsingshan Holding Group, Indonesia’s biggest nickel producer, is leading a group seeking investors for a nickel sulphate plant to produce EV batteries in a $10 billion industrial park linked to its Weda Bay concession, the group said last month.
The group, which also includes China’s Huayou Cobalt Ltd and Zhenshi Holding Group, is looking to develop 9.3 million tonnes of nickel reserves in Weda Bay, in Malaku, jointly owned by France’s Eramet.
A China-based spokesman for Tsingshan deferred questions to its subsidiary Shanghai Decent Investment Group, which declined to comment. Huayou’s board secretary did not immediately respond to a request for comment.