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BHP in talks with Wyloo over Noront takeover

The Eagle’s Nest nickel-copper-PGM project in northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire region. (Image courtesy of BHP.)

BHP (ASX, LON, NYSE: BHP) has begun talks with Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest’s Wyloo Metals concerning the imminent takeover of Canada’s Noront Resources (TSX-V: NOT), as part of a truce in the companies’ battle to acquire the nickel producer.

The world’s biggest miner last month sweetened its all-cash offer for Noront to C$0.75 per share, overtaking Wyloo’s C$0.70, which granted it the Toronto-based miner’s support.

“BHP and Wyloo Metals have engaged in initial conversations and are considering a mutually beneficial arrangement regarding the acquisition of Noront by BHP,” the company said in a statement.

“Wyloo Metals is considering the potential of a mutually beneficial arrangement with BHP insofar as this arrangement can deliver greater deal certainty to Noront shareholders,” the miner said in a separate statement.

BHP also extended the tender expiry for its takeover from November 9 to November 16.

At stake is Noront’s early-stage Eagle’s Nest nickel and copper deposit in the ‘Ring of Fire’ in northern Ontario. The asset has been billed by Wyloo as the largest high-grade nickel discovery in Canada since the Voisey’s Bay nickel find in the eastern province of Newfoundland and Labrador.   

Eagle’s Nest is expected to begin commercial production in 2026 with the mine running initially for 11 years. 

The mine’s start date has repeatedly been pushed back by Noront due to successive federal and provincial governments’ inability to consult and reach a unanimous agreement with First Nations in the area. 

Nickel frenzy

The tug of war between the two Australian companies is the latest evidence of the rush global miners are in to secure supply of battery metals ahead of an imminent surge in demand from electric vehicles. 

Nickel production would need to increase nearly fourfold to meet expected demand for electric and hybrid vehicles, the company estimates. Likewise, copper output would also need to grow exponentially to meet demand from renewable power generation, battery storage, electric vehicles, charging stations and related grid infrastructure. 

Tesla boss Elon Musk has expressed worries about a looming nickel shortage. He pleaded with miners last year to produce more nickel, promising a “giant contract” for supply produced efficiently and in an “environmentally sensitive way.” 

Last month, the US EV giant inked a multi-year nickel supply deal with New Caledonia’s Prony Resources. The contract guarantees it about 42,000 tonnes of the metal needed to produce the batteries that power its EVs. 

Tesla also has a similar agreement with BHP.