BHP has produced the first nickel sulphate crystals from its Kwinana nickel sulphate plant south of Perth in Western Australia.
Nickel sulphate is a key material in the lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles (EVs), with more than 85 per cent of BHP’s current production sold to the future-battery supply chain.
The production follows an announcement in July that BHP will supply Tesla with nickel from its Nickel West assets in a collaboration which will aim to make the battery supply chain more sustainable.
According to BHP, the nickel sulphate plant is an Australian-first and will produce 100,000 tonnes of nickel sulphate per year when fully operational.
Nickel from BHP’s mines is processed at the Kalgoorlie nickel smelter, before it is transported to the Kwinana nickel refinery and refined into nickel metal in the form of powder or briquette.
The powder is then processed through the new sulphate plant to make nickel sulphate and will be exported to global battery markets from Fremantle port.
BHP Nickel West asset president Jessica Farrell said the plant is expected to produce enough premium nickel sulphate to make 700,000 EV batteries each year.
“The plant will create 80 new direct jobs and support 400 new indirect jobs, in addition to the 200 construction jobs that were created during the construction phase,” Farrell said,
“High quality and sustainable nickel is essential for our customers, and we expect demand for nickel in batteries will increase by 500 per cent in the next decade.
“Our investment to upgrade the refinery to produce high purity nickel sulphate, along with nickel powder and briquettes, will enhance Nickel West’s position as a supplier of choice for the growing global electric battery market.”
Over half of the plant was fabricated in Western Australia using local skills and suppliers including the steel work, fibreglass leach vessels and stainless steel tanks.
The plant consists of leaching tanks, purification technology, a crystalliser and dryer, and an automated packaging system.
BHP’s Nickel West employs over 2500 people and its operations include a fully integrated mine-to-metal business.
This includes open cut and underground mining operations in Western Australia; concentrators at Mt Keith, Leinster and Kambalda; a smelter at Kalgoorlie that produces nickel-in-matte; and the Kwinana refinery.