Nickel is in demand right now, and that’s largely thanks to its role in the burgeoning battery-electric vehicle sector. It’s good news for producers like Vale, but as the technology advances rapidly, one question remains: how can the miner produce enough of the metal to keep up with the industry?
“Our biggest concern, actually, is where does the nickel come from, and we don’t think we can build the plants fast enough, unless we find alternative, cheaper ways to actually start delivering that metal to market,” said Alistair Ross, the director of mining and milling for Vale’s North Atlantic base metals operations.
“We believe innovation is the access to that.” Speaking to mining supply and service providers during the Dec. 10 annual meeting of the Sudbury Area Mining Service and Supply Association (SAMSSA), Ross said Vale is working to digitize every stage of ore production, from exploration through to market, and do so “at the right cost.”
Data gleaned from operations will be a key factor in achieving that, he said. Eventually, Vale believes the technology will be so advanced they’ll be able to read the metal from the drill as it’s going through the stope.
“We don’t have to collect a sample, we don’t have to send it to a lab; we have instantaneous measurement from the drill,” Ross predicted. “We know the rate at which the drill’s going, we know the angle at which the drill’s going, we interpolate to the next holes, and we can start to understand geometry way earlier than we would understand it now.”
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