Umicore signs long-term agreement with Terrafame for supply of sustainable low-carbon nickel sulfate
03 February 2023
Umicore has signed a long-term agreement with Finland-based Terrafame Ltd. for the supply of low-carbon, sustainable high-grade nickel sulfate. Following the successful completion of the qualification process, commercial deliveries have already started with further ramp-up of volumes to take place during 2023.
Terraframe produces nickel and cobalt sulfates, which are used as battery chemicals. The company says that its nickel sulfate production capacity can fill the needs of around one million electric cars per year. In January, Terraframe signed a nickel sulfate supply agreement with Stellantis. (Earlier post.)
A 2020 life-cycle analysis by Sphera Solutions GmbH, verified by Prof. Dr. Matthias Finkbeiner, Technical University of Berlin, found that the carbon footprint of Terrafame’s nickel sulfate is 1.75 kg CO2/ kg NiSO4, compared to the industry average of 5.4 kg CO2/ kg NiSO4 (the latter figure based on a life-cycle assessment study conducted by the Nickel Institute, based on data collected from its members).
The company says that its bioleaching method is the main factor behind the small carbon footprint; bioleaching uses microbes to extract metals from ore. Air is blown into stacks of ore and the stacks are irrigated with an acidic solution. The stacked ore is first leached in the primary heap for about 15 months. The ore is then reclaimed and conveyed onto a secondary heap for final leaching.
With bioleaching, ore does not need to be crushed nor grinded as fine as in the traditional process, and high temperature metallurgical processes are not used in further processing.
After bioleaching, precious metals from the leach solution are separated into solid form. The company precipitates the metals gradually into zinc, copper, nickel and cobalt sulfides, and further processes the nickel and cobalt sulfides into nickel and cobalt sulfates.
With this partnership, Umicore and Terrafame reconfirm their strong commitment to establish a sustainable battery materials value chain in Europe. The European value chain will secure the high-quality European-origin battery materials which are fully aligned with the environmental and human rights principles outlined in Umicore’s Global Sustainable Sourcing Policy as well as Terrafame’s sustainability commitments in line with the leading global sustainability principles.
The low carbon footprint of Terrafame’s processes was a critical consideration for Umicore in light of its ambition to decarbonize the battery materials value chain.
High-quality nickel is a critical raw material for the production of cathode materials used in batteries for electric vehicles. Against a background of an accelerating transition to electromobility in Europe, this agreement for locally produced nickel sulfate allows the industry to meet the growing demand for cathode materials from its customers in the region.
This agreement will cover a substantial part of the future nickel requirements of Umicore’s cathode materials plant in Poland. This plant, which started production mid-2022 and is fully powered by renewable electricity, is Europe’s first gigafactory for cathode materials.
This agreement complements Umicore’s diverse long-term supply contracts for critical battery metals—lithium, cobalt, nickel—and follow long-term agreements for the sustainable supply of lithium.