The Nickel Pickle: Everyone wants Indonesia’s nickel. But Xiang Guangda was there first. – by Eliot Chen (The Wire China – May 7, 2023)


The floodlights at Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park stay on throughout the night. Around the clock, more than 40,000 workers operate the 8,000 acre site, which just ten years ago was nothing but dense rainforest on Sulawesi, Indonesia’s fourth largest island. Today, the sprawling park, which many refer to simply as “IMIP,” is home to a port, an airport, dormitories for Chinese workers, a four-star hotel and three mosques.

At its core, however, IMIP exists to smelt and refine at enormous scale a single mineral: nickel. Long a key ingredient in stainless steel, nickel is increasingly wanted for the production of lithium ion batteries for electric vehicles. By 2040, the International Energy Agency estimates that clean energy technologies will account for as much as 70 percent of total nickel demand.

For Indonesia, this presents a huge opportunity: the country is already the world’s largest nickel miner, extracting almost half of the world’s supply in 2022, and it has now set its sights on becoming a major player in the EV supply chain.

IMIP stands as Indonesia’s proof that it can climb up the value chain of its abundant natural resources. Nearly a decade ago, the country embarked on a strategy of ‘resource nationalism’ when the government banned the export of unprocessed minerals, hoping to force foreign companies to invest in local smelting and refining. Back then, the move spooked foreign investors, driving major miners like Rio Tinto to exit the country.

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