As analysts and industry participants warn of a looming shortage of battery-grade nickel, there is an ample pipeline of projects employing high-pressure acid leach (HPAL) technology to produce nickel chemicals. But scrutiny of the process is also growing, after some facilities ran into difficulties or produced less than expected.
HPAL has its advantages, particularly given a lack of options to convert low-grade nickel laterite ore—the form that represents the larger share of the world’s resources.
However, several challenges—including high capital expenditure (capex) and environmental impact—may not only slow down its adoption, but also lead some projects to failure, sources said.
HPAL is the process used to recover nickel and cobalt separately from each other, from low-grade nickel oxide laterite ores. Several HPAL projects have already been unsuccessful so far in converting low-grade nickel laterite ore into premium material.
One of the most discussed examples recently was Goro in New Caledonia, which was purchased by mining giant Vale in 2006. The original $1.5 billion capex surged to $4.5 billion to support a 60,000 mt/year nickel oxide and mixed hydroxide precipitate (MHP) operation.