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Queensland Pacific Metals enters binding supply agreement for up to 1M tonnes per year of nickel-containing limonite

Australia-based Queensland Pacific Metals (QPM) has entered into a binding ore supply agreement with Société Le Nickel (SLN), a subsidiary of Eramet Group, up to 1,000,000 wet metric tonnes (wmt) of nickel-containing limonite ore per annum to QPM. The approval is valid through to 2029, in line with SLN’s existing export approvals that are currently in place.

QPM is developing its 100%-owned Townsville Energy Chemicals Hub (TECH) Project—a battery metals refinery, 40 km south of Townsville, in northern Queensland. The TECH Project will produce critical metals for the rapidly emerging lithium-ion battery and electric vehicle sector.

SLN is the world’s top producer of ferronickel and has multiple mine sites in New Caledonia with operations dating back to 1880. The Government of New Caledonia has approved an increase in the annual nickel ore export quota of SLN, including the supply to QPM.

SLN and QPM had signed a Memorandum of Understanding in April 2021 contemplating ore supply of 800,000 wmt per annum.

Specifications for the limonite ore include:

  • 1.4 – 1.7% Ni (typical 1.6%)
  • 0.1 – 0.25% Co (typical 0.18%)
  • 30.0 – 47.5% Fe (typical 42%)
  • 1.5 – 8.0% MgO (typical 2%)
  • 2.0 – 9.0% Al2O3 (typical 3%)
  • 28.0 – 40.0% moisture (typical 33%)

As part of the Agreement, SLN and QPM have also agreed to explore other partnership opportunities regarding additional ore supply and potential TECH Project participation.

Limonite is a mineraloid—an amorphous substance that would otherwise have the attributes of a mineral—composed mainly of hydrous iron oxides that are often found in intimate associations with iron minerals. Limonite is a general term for a mixture of fine-grained iron oxides, generally dominated by goethite, but also possibly containing hematite, lepidochrocite and other minerals.

QPM has licensed the DNi Process from Altilium Group for processing high-grade nickel laterite ore. The DNi Process is a more environmentally friendly process for extracting nickel, cobalt and other valuable metals from laterite ore that ensures sustainability of natural resources. Key features of the DNi Process are >98% recycling of nitric acid, no requirement for tailings dams and minimal waste products.

Lateritic ore is divided into limonite (oxide ore) and saprolite (silicate ore). While the DNi Process can treat the entire laterite ore profile, QPM is targeting the purchase of limonite ore.

Elias

Schematic laterite profile. Elias, M. (2002)


The global seaborne nickel ore trade is almost exclusively saprolite ore, which sits below the limonite ore body layer. (Saprolite type nickel ore formed beneath the limonite zone. It contains generally 1.5-2.5% nickel and consists largely of Mg-depleted serpentine in which nickel is incorporated.)

The saprolite is used to produce nickel pig iron and ferronickel operations and can’t be easily, cheaply or sustainably converted into battery-grade nickel and cobalt-sulfate for lithium-ion batteries.

Saprolite ore miners either avoid areas with a high proportion of limonite, or have to mine through the limonite and either stockpile or treat it as overburden, creating significant inefficiencies. By exclusively purchasing limonite ore, QPM delivers a strategic benefit to any counterparty it deals with.

New Caledonia, and the world, is awash with limonite resources that remain undeveloped—the successful commercialization of the TECH Project will be a game changer for these deposits and their ability to form part of global, sustainable nickel production.

—QPM Managing Director Dr Stephen Grocott

Resources

  • Fajar Nurjaman, Widi Astuti, Fathan Bahfie, Bambang Suharno (2021) “Study of selective reduction in lateritic nickel ore: Saprolite versus limonite,” Materials Today: Proceedings, Volume 44, Part 1, Pages 1488-1494 doi: 10.1016/j.matpr.2020.11.687

  • Kaczan, W., Kudełko, J. & Wirth, H. (2021) “Szklary nickel deposit — a review and introduction to attempts in hydrometallurgical processing.” Miner Econ 34, 315–322 doi: 10.1007/s13563-021-00269-0 (open access)

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