Nickel mining company, Direct Nickel, has received an injection of capital from the CSIRO Australian Growth Partnership (AGP) program to work with CSIRO’s Minerals Down Under Flagship towards unlocking Australia’s nickel laterite reserves.
The funding will be used to construct a prototype at CSIRO’s Waterford (Perth, Western Australia) laboratories to evaluate the novel DNi concept for processing nickel laterite ores.
CSIRO’s AGP program – funded by the Australian Government – extends finance to small and medium-sized enterprises that can make a difference in an area of national priority. “CSIRO has worked with all of Australia’s – and many international – nickel producers to help enhance their operations,” explains Dave Robinson, leader of CSIRO’s Base Metals processing activities. “In addition CSIRO has deep expertise in most of the unit operations required for nickel processing.”
The AGP program offers between $500,000 and $2 million per SME, allowing these businesses to purchase R&D capability from anywhere within CSIRO, said the Program’s executive manager, Darren Cundy.
The Direct Nickel (DNi) Process is a hydrometallurgical process for nickel laterite deposits. It is believed to be the only process capable of treating the full laterite profile in a single flowsheet.
The tank leach process operates at atmospheric pressure and treats the ore at relatively low temperatures.
“CSIRO is supporting the development of the DNi concept using its hydrometallurgical R&D capabilities, as well as its considerable research infrastructure located at our Waterford plus other laboratories,” adds Robinson.
The development of the DNi concept is part of the Minerals Down Under Flagship’s Creating Wealth through Advanced Processing Technology Theme.
The theme’s goal is to enhance the competitiveness of Australia’s minerals industry by improving the performance of existing mineral processing operations and by developing new ways to extract value from low grade or complex ores.
The DNi leach process uses a special reagent package to liberate more than 95 per cent of the nickel, cobalt and other metals into solution.
The insoluble residue is neutralised and sent to a waste disposal facility.
The solution is then sequentially processed to extract the individual metals.
Australia has about 16 per cent of the world’s laterite resources, but the poor economics of laterite processing have meant that only about 40 per cent of total global nickel production comes from this form of nickel.
CSIRO will invest $1.5 million to fund the construction of a mineral processing prototype facility at its Waterford site in Western Australia, and provide funds to allow Direct Nickel to carry out a scientific collaboration with CSIRO’s Minerals Down Under Flagship.
“It is expected that all of the components and services required to construct and operate the pilot facility will be sourced from Australian suppliers,” notes Robinson.
Direct Nickel executive chairman Julian Malnic worked with the CSIRO in the pioneering stages of his previous company Nautilus Minerals, now a global leader in Seafloor Massive Sulphide development.
With the benefit of that experience, Direct Nickel saw engagement with CSIRO through the AGP program as the way to address several key development needs.
Malnic said: “To roll-out the Direct Nickel Process we need to expand beyond our own laboratories located in North America.
We are confident in the basic process, but CSIRO’s depth of experience and facilities at CSIRO’s Waterford site will be critical to refine the process for robust scale up.
Also there is a healthy degree of scepticism in the laterite sector because of recent history and having Australia’s leading scientific research organisation as our development partner provides Direct Nickel with even more confidence in the future of our alternative laterite process.
The demonstration facility at CSIRO’s Waterford site will enable the continuous testing of the Direct Nickel Process on a number of laterites.
The expected highly compelling outcomes will enhance Direct Nickel’s strategy to take equity in the development of nickel laterite deposits in Australia and around the world.”