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Vale Canada Ltd.’s $2.8-billion nickel processing facility at Long Harbour in Newfoundland will be a showcase for the mining giant’s newly developed hydrometallurgy refining technology when the plant is completed in early 2013.
Long Harbour, which will process 50,000 tons per year of nickel from the Voisey’s Bay concentrate deposit in Labrador, will operate much differently than traditional nickel processing facilities. The key difference is the use of hydrometallurgy or “hydromet” technology that utilizes a combination of water and oxygen under pressure to dissolve selected metals from the incoming concentrate.
“It is a process called POL, which means Pressure Oxidative Leaching,” says Rinaldo Stefan, who is project director of the Long Harbour processing plant.
For Vale, one of the big payoffs from the POL process is a significantly reduced sulphur dioxide footprint for the Long Harbour operation. As part of the traditional nickel refining process, sulphur is mixed with oxygen to be removed, captured and then converted into sulphuric acid to be disposed of.