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:: First Nickel Product from Laterite Heap Leaching
European Nickel PLC, the British company developing a heap leach process for the production of nickel from laterite ores, is pleased to report that it has started to produce nickel/cobalt hydroxide from its pilot plant in Turkey.
This is an intermediate product which will be shipped to refineries for further processing into nickel and cobalt metal. The early shipments will go to refineries in Australia, Europe and China for their assessment of the product as part of the discussions leading up to longer-term offtake agreements.
The pilot plant at the Companys trial heap leach site at Çaldağ, near Izmir in western Turkey, was commissioned in late March. ENickel expects to produce around eight tonnes each month of nickel/cobalt hydroxide with a 30% metal content as part of the bankable feasibility study.
The first shipments of nickel/cobalt hydroxide will go to BHP Billitons Yabulu refinery in Australia under the terms of the Product Supply Agreement, linked to a share purchase and option agreement, that gives BHP Billiton rights to take up to 80% of the product from the Çaldağ operation on an LME based pricing model.
Simon Purkiss, managing director, said today: We are very pleased at the high rate of recovery we have been able to achieve over this first six months. The percolation through the heap continues to be good and demonstrates the practicality of this heap leach process. It will take some months more to confirm the total level of nickel extraction but I believe we have now proved beyond doubt that heap leaching of this specific type of laterite ore is practical and shortly we will demonstrate that it is economically attractive and bankable.
ENickel is developing the Çaldağ nickel deposit, where it has a 38 million tonne resource with a grade of 1.14% nickel and 0.05% cobalt at relatively shallow depths, which can be mined by open pit methods. The Company is demonstrating that the rock laterites of Turkey and those in other areas of the Balkans can be treated using a simple acid leach process, which will provide a lower cost nickel production route than conventional technologies. The Company has constructed a large scale trial heap leach operation to demonstrate the process which is being done for the first time on this scale anywhere in the world.
The first heap consists of 4,200 tonnes of 1.15% nickel ore which has been crushed and agglomerated and stacked on a multi-layered plastic liner. The second heap of 9,000 tonnes is operational and the third heap, of approximately 14,000 tonnes and 8 metres high, is under construction.
Subject to the availability of funding, ENickel expects to start construction of a fullscale plant in early 2006 to produce up to 15,000 tonnes of contained nickel metal a year from 2007.
Aker Kvaerner, the international engineering group, has been appointed by ENickel as the metallurgical and reporting engineer for the bankable feasibility study. It is designing the full scale heaps and metallurgical plant and is determining the capital and operating costs for the commercial scale operation. The capital cost of the fullscale project is currently estimated at approximately one-quarter of the comparable cost of an HPAL (high-pressure acid leach) plant needed to process nickel laterites from Australia and the Pacific region.
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