Western Areas managing director Dan Lougher has fired a warning shot to nickel laterite developers, questioning whether the oncoming battery boom will make high-cost projects viable.
The euphoria around the potential for lithium ion batteries to transform demand for their highest volume ingredient and rising prices for cobalt have prompted owners of a string of low-grade lateritic projects to dust them off. Large-scale nickel laterite mines can be costly to both build and process, often relying on a chemical-intensive process called high-pressure acid leach to extract the resource.
Mr Lougher told delegates at the Diggers and Dealers forum in Kalgoorlie-Boulder today the battery market would be a growing contributor to nickel demand over the next decade, which was still dominated by steel makers, but that high-grade nickel sulphide producers would be the quickest to scale up for the new market.
“It does accelerate, that’s what history tells us, but even if you don’t take the amber colour there is still huge need and demand for that nickel,” he said. “The product of sulphides is actually diminishing.
“So we’re not discovering deposits, or we’re discovering lower-grade deposits which have got complex metallurgical requirements to extract it.