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Roskill: Indonesia to overtake China as top refined nickel producer this year

Materials supply chain intelligence company Roskill expects Indonesia to become the world’s largest producer of refined nickel this year, pushing China to second place. As recently as 2014, Indonesia produced only 24kt of refined nickel. In 2020, Indonesia produced 636kt of refined nickel, most of which was nickel pig iron (NPI) for the domestic and Chinese stainless steel industry. This level of production made the country the world’s second-largest nickel producer behind China.

Roskill attributes the growth to date to the Indonesian government’s imposition of restrictions on exports of unprocessed nickel ores; industry had little choice but to invest in refining capacity within Indonesia.

Now, the government is encouraging investment into nickel for electric vehicle batteries. This type of nickel requires a more complex and costly leaching process, rather than the relatively straightforward pyrometallurgical process needed to produce NPI.

China’s Ningbo Lygend has now started trial production at its high-pressure acid leach (HPAL) plant in Indonesia’s Obi island. (Original start of production, scheduled for Q3 2020, was delayed due to the pandemic.) The Lygend plant will be the first HPAL plant in Indonesia.

In a paper presented at the 2019 International Conference on Mining and Environmental Technology in Indonesia, T Gultom and A Sianipar, both from Harita Nickel Group, Lygend’s Indonesian partner, noted that HPAL is a proven technology but not utilized in Indonesia due to the high investment, and the requirement for a large media for waste disposal.

Indonesia is one of world largest nickel laterite resources; currently only nickel ore saprolite has been exploited while nickel limonite is abandoned as waste due to the lack of technology. However, nickel limonite ore with grade 1.1 – 1.4% can be processed using HPAL technology to produce more than 37% nickel and cobalt. Lygend will process nickel ore by HPAL technology at temperatures of 240°C~270°C and pressures of 3,400kPa~5,600kPa.

The Lygend plant, which has a design capacity of 35kt Ni-in-mixed hydroxide product (MHP) in its first phase, will initially supply the third-party market before becoming fully integrated to produce nickel sulfate, supplying the EV battery market, Roskill said.

Once the second phase is operational, the plant will have a total design capacity of 52ktpy Ni-in-nickel sulfate, as well as 6ktpy of Co-in-sulfate. First MHP is expected to be produced in May.

While Lygend’s HPAL plant is the first of its type to start producing in Indonesia, Roskill expects more to be commissioned, notably in Morowali and in Weda Bay, which are already major nickel-producing areas in the country.

Roskill estimates total possible capacity of nickel in MHP in Indonesia to be 360ktpy Ni across all the announced projects in the country representing a key feedstock for integrated nickel sulfate in the country as well as third-party processors elsewhere.



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