BHP opens Australia’s first nickel sulphate plant

First nickel sulphate produced at the Kwinana refinery. (Image courtesy of BHP |YouTube.)

BHP (ASX, LON, NYSE: BHP) said on Friday it had produced the first nickel sulphate crystals from its plant in Kwinana, outside Perth, a part of the miner’s strategy to grow its battery metals footprint to meet expected soaring demand. 

Nickel is a key component for electric vehicle (EV) cathodes, and the world’s no. 1 mining company expects demand for the metal from the batteries sector alone to increase by 500% over the next decade.  

Nickel sulphate, a key battery chemical, has much higher margins than nickel metal and BHP believes it will be in high demand due to a spike in the adoption EVs, as governments commit to decarbonizing and set end dates for combustion engine sales. 

Nickel is a key component for EV cathodes, and BHP expects demand for the metal from the batteries sector alone to increase by 500% over the next decade

The Kwinana plant, which BHP and authorities call an “Australian first”, will produce 100,000 tonnes of nickel sulphate per year when fully operational. That is enough premium product to make 700,000 EV batteries each year, Nickel West asset president Jessica Farrell said in the statement.   

The facility will create 80 new direct jobs and support 400 new indirect jobs, along with the 200 construction jobs that were created during the construction phase, Farrel noted. 

As Western Australia’s (WA) largest nickel producer, BHP’s Nickel West operations play a key role in supporting the state’s goal of becoming a world leader in future battery minerals, materials, technology and expertise. 

Source: Presentation by Eddy Haegel, Asset President Nickel West. August 2021. (Click to enlarge)

“Nickel is essential to decarbonization and Western Australia has some of the largest and highest-grade nickel sulphide deposits in the world, in addition to leading mining and mineral expertise,” state development, jobs and trade minister, Roger Cook, said in a separate statement

Over 50% of the plant was fabricated in Western Australia using local skills and suppliers. This included the steel work, fibreglass leach vessels and stainless-steel tanks. Half the refinery’s electricity needs will be met by solar power, the WA government noted. 

WA is the world’s fourth largest nickel producer, with more than A$3.3 billion (about $22bn) in sales in 2020. 

BHP’s nickel operations include Mt Keith, Cliffs and Leinster mines. It has concentrators at Mt Keith, Leinster and Kambalda, a smelter in Kalgoorlie and the Kwinana refinery.