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MEI Online: Commodities: Metallic Ores: Nickel: Latest News: August 12th 2004


:: Mintek Awarded Contract for Kazakhstan Ferronickel Testwork and Pre-Feasibility Study

Oriel Resources plc has commissioned Mintek to develop a pyrometallurgical process for the Schevchenko nickel project in northern Kazakhstan.

Initial smelting testwork has been completed on a 6 t representative ore sample at Mintek's DC arc pilot plant in Randburg, South Africa. The results were very positive, and demonstrated that a ferronickel alloy containing over 20 per cent nickel could be produced at a nickel recovery conservatively estimated at 89 per cent. Optimum smelting conditions are expected to further improve the grade and recovery.

The smelting campaign provided material and energy balances to quantify the process flowsheet and produce initial engineering data for a preliminary feasibility study, which will be completed during August. A demonstration-scale campaign on a 450 t bulk ore sample is planned for later in 2004, and subject to a favourable outcome, a detailed Definitive Feasibility Study will follow during the first half of 2005.

Mintek and Bateman Metals Ltd are managing the preliminary feasibility study, and will assess the process parameters and provide capital and operating costs estimates for the proposed smelter. GBM Minerals Engineering Consultants, UK, are providing cost estimates for the mine and process plant infrastructure, and Wardell Armstrong International, UK, is preparing resource and reserve statements, pit optimisation and production schedules, and a preliminary environmental scoping study.

With the strong heavy engineering capabilities and good infrastructure in the region, Oriel anticipates that Schevchenko could start up by early 2007. The scale of production is likely to be about 120 kt of ferronickel, containing 30 kt of nickel metal, a year.

The benefits of the DC arc process for the Schevchenko project include significantly lower capital costs due to improved flowsheet design, and lower operating costs as a result of the direct use of calcined nickel ore fines without prior agglomeration. Electricity, gas, coal, labour and other costs in Kazakhstan are low by world standards, and the variable operating costs of the project should be less than US$1.00 per pound nickel, with total costs in the region of US$1.50 to 1.70 per pound. This would place Schevchenko among the 'second lowest quartile' cost producers.

Mintek has developed DC arc smelting technology for several projects in South Africa and elsewhere over the past twenty years. Industrial applications include chromite and ilmenite smelting, nickel and cobalt recovery from furnace and converter slags, and the production of chromium-containing ferronickel master alloy for stainless steel production. Several large-scale smelting campaigns have also been successfully conducted on calcined nickel laterite fines, as well as nickel sulphide concentrates. Falconbridge has proposed to use DC technology at its Koniambo project in New Caledonia.




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