Huayou’s Indonesia nickel JV starts trial production

Sumitomo’s Taganito plant is an example of an HPAL plant. Image courtesy of Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. Ltd

China’s Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt said on Wednesday it had achieved its first trial output in Indonesia from a smelting joint venture to produce cobalt and nickel for use in electric vehicle (EV) manufacture.

The venture named PT Huayue, in which Huayou partners with Tsingshan Holding Group and China Molybdenum Co, is the second of a number of closely-watched projects in Indonesia to reach commissioning.

An inspection confirmed the quality of the product, a mixed hydroxide precipitate (MHP) that can be processed into nickel and cobalt chemicals for EV batteries, met the required level, Huayou said in a filing. It did not give a timeframe for the ramp-up to full production and some of the new projects have been slowed by the pandemic.

On a metal content basis, PT Huayue, on the island of Sulawesi, is designed to produce 60,000 tonnes of nickel and 7,800 tonnes of cobalt per year using high-pressure acid leach (HPAL) technology, which can allow rapid production and high rates of recovery.

Top nickel miner Indonesia banned nickel ore exports from 2020 as it sought to process more resources at home in order to maximise returns. The ban persuaded more companies from top EV market China to set up plants in Indonesia.

Huayou in May took a 20% stake in a larger HPAL project in Indonesia, without saying when that plant would launch, while another Indonesian HPAL scheme, led by GEM Co is targeting start-up in 2022.

Late on Tuesday, Huayou said it agreed to jointly mine nickel, cobalt, manganese and lithium with Beijing Easpring Material Technology and will supply 300,000-350,000 tonnes of battery precursors to the company from 2022-25.

Easpring, which makes battery cathode materials, separately signed a cooperation agreement with CNGR Advanced Material that will see it buy another 200,000-300,000 tonnes of precursors from 2022-24.

Easpring and CNGR also plan to jointly mine nickel in Indonesia, where Easpring will invest in CNGR’s 60,000 tonnes per year nickel matte project. The partners will also build a 300,000 tonnes per year lithium iron phosphate base in China’s Guizhou province.

(By Tom Daly; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Jason Neely and Barbara Lewis)

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