Nickel work gen­er­a­tor

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS - CAS GARVEY

A NICKEL re­fin­ery poised to bring hun­dreds of jobs to Townsville is hop­ing to se­cure con­tracts with the likes of Sam­sung, Pana­sonic and Tesla to sup­ply ma­te­rial to make elec­tric car bat­ter­ies.

This week, the re­fin­ery moved a step for­ward af­ter test­ing from CSIRO re­vealed the best way to man­u­fac­ture high pu­rity bat­tery­grade nickel and cobalt sul­phate.

Queens­land Pa­cific Met­als is look­ing to de­velop a $ 300 mil­lion Stage 1 plant near Yab­ulu in 2020, pro­duc­ing 25,000 tonnes of nickel sul­phate and 3000 tonnes of cobalt sul­phate by mid- 2021.

A larger scale plant would pro­duce 130,000 tonnes of nickel sul­phate and 25,000 tonnes of cobalt sul­phate, em­ploy­ing up to 800 peo­ple.

QPM com­mis­sioned Aus­tralia’s lead­ing re­search group CSIRO to test a fac­tory de­sign and sam­ple prod­uct to con­tinue dis­cus­sions with po­ten­tial buy­ers.

QPM ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor John Downie will go to New Cale­do­nia this week­end to meet with the sup­pli­ers of the nickel ore the Townsville fac­tory would use as feed­stock.

“I’m there un­til Wed­nes­day. We’re go­ing to have our reg­u­lar meet­ing with our sup­pli­ers and work­ing group so we dis­cuss how things are go­ing at their end and firm­ing up some of the de­tails of the Mem­o­ran­dum of Un­der­stand­ings we have with them and in­spect­ing their mines,” Mr Downie said.

“It’s quite an im­por­tant thing to do, Aus­tralia is very much up the list of pre­ferred ex­port des­ti­na­tions for all so we want to make sure that con­tin­ues and they want to know what we want to achieve.”

Mr Downie said the re­sults of CSIRO’s re­cent test­ing was “de­vel­op­ing con­fi­dence” in the new re­fin­ery project.

“CSIRO have just con­firmed the process to say ‘ this is the op­ti­mum ap­proach’ so we can fin­ish the fea­si­bil­ity study,” he said.

“What we now have to do is when we go to the fi­nal step of the fea­si­bil­ity study we’ll run 80 tonnes from New Cale­do­nia through the first part of the plant us­ing rec­om­men­da­tions from the CSIRO to make five or six thou­sand tonnes to ship it off to po­ten­tial off- tak­ers to sign up long- term con­tracts.”

Mr Downie ex­pects to get “a con­di­tional sign- off” from off­take part­ners by mid- 2020 and then firm long- term con­tracts shortly af­ter with two or three ma­jor com­pa­nies.

“We’re look­ing at the ma­jor bat- tery man­u­fac­tur­ers; over in the EU where they have tar­gets say­ing 70 per cent of the cars they pro­duce by 2025 have to be elec­tric – but to do that you need to in­crease the qual­ity of metal sul­phate be­ing pro­duced around the world,” he said.

“So the peo­ple that are mak­ing these bat­ter­ies like Pana­sonic in Ja­pan, Sam­sung in Korea, Huawei in China and then over in Europe and US like Tesla that are lead­ing the way with these bat­tery plants.”

In terms of job cre­ation in North Queens­land, Mr Downie said the first stage of the plant would cre­ate 150 per­ma­nent jobs, with a num­ber of other roles within port oper­a­tions, truck­ing and prod­uct han­dling.

Once the re­fin­ery gets to the stage of be­ing able to pro­duce other met­als like iron, mag­ne­sium and man­ganese the em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties would in­crease, with po­ten­tially up to an 800- strong work­force.

“There’s very ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple in Townsville in this in­dus­try and we’re for­tu­nate to be able to tap into that knowl­edge,” Mr Downie said.

POW­ER­FUL PO­TEN­TIAL: CSIRO’s pilot plant used to test nickel and cobalt sul­phate pro­duc­tion for Queens­land Pa­cific Met­als' new re­fin­ery pro­posed for Townsville.

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