Alpha Fine Chemicals to build new high-tech nickel plant in WA

Nickel producer Alpha Fine Chemicals (AFC) is set to build and operate a nickel sulphate plant at Kwinana south of Perth in Western Australia.

The plant will produce 20,000t per annum of nickel sulphate crystals to support the rapidly growing lithium-ion battery market. It will also produce cobalt carbonate and magnesium sulphate as by-products of the production of nickel sulphate.

Currently at the definitive feasibility stage, AFC is assessing plant locations to consider its appropriate site options for infrastructure, port facilities, transport routes and raw materials. The project is also subject to local and state government approvals.

Central to the Kwinana operation, the plant will use the CMN process, a patented technology which extracts solvent without involving any high pressure or high temperature operations, nor toxic or flammable gases that are typically required.

This makes AFC’s CMN plants less complex, safer to operate and cheaper to build and run. The project is expected to start production in 2020, create 50 to 60 permanent full-time jobs and have an expected life of more than 20 years.

AFC’s plans are another positive development for Western Australia’s nickel industry, with BHP planning to expand its Nickel West business unit, despite rumours of selling the plant.

BHP Nickel West president Eduard Haegel was reported saying Nickel West’s target output would be 90,000t of nickel next year, up from its previous target of 84,000t.

Haegel added that nickel would be sourced for batteries that power Chinese electric cars: “We’ve seen quite an explosion for, particularly nickel powder into China.”

According to Australian Financial Review, China sold 507,000 electric vehicles including buses and commercial vehicles last year, with Beijing set to manufacture seven million battery and hybrid vehicles by 2025.

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