KALGOORLIE, Australia (Reuters) – Global miner BHP is plowing more investment into nickel mine development and exploration in Western Australia, seeking to secure its own supply of a key material in batteries needed to meet booming demand for electric cars.
BHP is building what is expected to be the world’s largest battery-grade nickel sulphate plant on the outskirts of Perth and is boosting output to be “as self-sufficient as possible”, asset president Eduard Haegel, told Reuters on the sidelines of the Diggers and Dealers mining conference in Kalgoorlie.
Nickel is in increasingly hot demand in new battery technologies that mean cars can travel further on a single charge. Using more nickel also cuts costs by reducing the amount of expensive cobalt, a mainstay of current electric vehicle (EV) battery technology.
Popular nickel, manganese and cobalt (NMC) lithium-ion batteries typically employ a ratio of 60 percent nickel to 20 percent cobalt and 20 percent manganese or 6:2:2. Increasingly battery makers are preparing to change the composition of these cathode materials to 80 percent nickel, 10 percent cobalt and 10 percent manganese.
As well as sourcing from its own mines, BHP also buys nickel concentrate from other miners. The move to secure more of its own supply comes as anticipated EV demand encourages other miners to go into sulphate production themselves.