While New Zealand is leading the way in enthusiasm for electric vehicles and related long-life batteries, Australia is still in the petrol-vehicle mode but its miners are making major advances for battery metals.
Yesterday, Paydirt’s Australian Nickel Conference showed how its sulphide nickel miners and sulphide and lateritic nickel explorers are spending millions to be well set for the dramatic lift in demand for nickel and nickel-cobalt deposits.
Independence Group NL (ASX: IGO) chief executive Peter Bradford told delegates that decreasing stockpiles and growth in global stainless steel demand will move nickel prices higher as the commodity becomes the big winner from the electric vehicle demand disruption.
Not only will that demand spurt require an additional 300,000 to 900,000 tonnes of nickel within seven years, but it will also underpin a much stronger outlook over FY19 for IGO’s Nova nickel-copper mine in Western Australia’s Fraser Range.
IGO, which is also a major gold producer has a budget for the coming year of $A50 million for exploration.
The Company is working to further evolve the downstream processing potential from its broader Nova assets, to produce nickel and cobalt sulphates for electric vehicle (EV) batteries.
“EV lithium ion battery cathodes with higher nickel content are the key to enabling higher energy density, and that broadens our opportunity for Nova to emerge as a stable supplier of minerals critical to clean energy storage.”
The principal of PCF Capital Group, Liam Twigger, said that in the past 12 months, there had been a continuation of improvement in sentiment for the Australian nickel sector.
“The share prices of all companies present were up 30% September to September but unfortunately got smashed over the past couple of weeks to be essentially flat year on year,” Twigger said.
Twigger told delegates that while it was good to be conservative -and “anyone in the nickel space knows that you need to play the long game” – those with Kambalda footprint properties may be missing a trick.
“The Australian nickel sector remains in great shape, not only for today but also for the future.”
On the eve of the conference, major nickel miner Western Areas Ltd (ASX: WSA) was to start $A32 million in early site works on the Cosmos Odysseus to revive mining on what had been a high grade operation by the end of 2022.
There are established plant, airstrip and camp at the project which is expected to cost $A299 M.
Managing director Dan Lougher made it clear that the impetus for this major re-development was the opportunities for producing nickel sulphate for the EV market.
One of the company’s pushing the nickel supply side for EV’s, BHP’s Nickel West division showed the physical progress being made on building a multi-million dollar nickel sulphate plant at its Kwinana nickel refinery in Western Australia.
Head of integrated operations for Nickel West, Karl Stokes, said the nickel sulphate plant, stage 1, should see structural, mechanical and pipework start in the first quarter of next year.
Nickel West is also undertaking laboratory tests to produce a battery grade cobalt.
Near the end of the conference NZResources editor Ross Louthean was in a question and answer session in which he pointed to the fact that despite the nickel price not being spectacular at this stage, there was a comfort zone created by the perceived growth of nickel for the EV market and also the strong global market for stainless steel.
Louthean and Carl Knox-Robinson attended the conference to market the company’s new book “Australia’s Nickel Adventure.”