by Kathrine Moore
NICKEL IS A BASE METAL with many uses; from coins to skyscrapers it is part of our daily life, including the kitchen sink. But not all nickel is equal. Different types of nickel are used for different purposes. Mark Jarvis, CEO of Giga Metals, spoke to Resource World about the nickel industry, nickel demand and types of nickel.
According to Jarvis, 70% of all nickel produced is used to feed stainless-steel mills. Most of that nickel is class 2 nickel, including nickel pig iron, an iron nickel alloy, a type of low-grade ferro-nickel. A small amount of class 1 or pure nickel, on average 5% of the nickel units, is necessary for steel making,
All other uses of nickel require class 1 nickel, including storage batteries and batteries that power electric vehicles. Jarvis explained that class 1 nickel is nickel that can be economically upgraded to 99.9% nickel or better.
Only about half of the world’s nickel supply is suitable for use in batteries. Much of it comes from increasingly hard to find sulphide deposits like those found in Sudbury, Voisey’s Bay and Russia. Class 1 nickel from sulphide deposits is processed using simple, 100-year-old technology.
❝THE BIG MONEY THAT IS BEING SPENT BY THE BIG BATTERY COMPANIES IN RESEARCH, IS ALL ABOUT HOW TO INCREASE THE AMOUNT OF NICKEL IN THE BATTERY CHEMISTRY BECAUSE BASICALLY, THE PROBLEM WITH ELECTRIC VEHICLES IS RANGE ANXIETY. IF YOU WANT TO INCREASE THE RANGE OF YOUR ELECTRIC VEHICLE, YOU HAVE TO INCREASE THE AMOUNT OF NICKEL, AS A PERCENTAGE, IN YOUR CATHODE MATERIALS.❞
As battery technology advances, manufacturers are packing more and more nickel into them to increase electric vehicle range. Jarvis said, “The big money that is being spent by the big battery companies in research, is all about how to increase the amount of nickel in the battery chemistry because basically, the problem with electric vehicles is range anxiety. If you want to increase the range of your electric vehicle, you have to increase the amount of nickel, as a percentage, in your cathode materials.”
Regarding competing battery technology Jarvis said, “There are a lot of experimental things going on but nothing you would even call a candidate. A candidate technology is something that is at least 10 to 20 years away from commercial production.”
Jarvis explained that some types of class 2 nickel can be processed into class 1 nickel using a complex and costly process called HPAL, a high-pressure, high-temperature, process that uses sulfuric acid to leach nickel from laterite ores. “It is not easy. It involves a lot of chemistry, heat and pressure. It has been done successfully, but most of the HPAL that has been constructed has been unsuccessful. The attempt has destroyed a lot of capital.”
Regarding supply of class 1 nickel, Jarvis said, “We think class 1 nickel is going to start getting really tight two, three, four years out. Once the cars start rolling out and more of the class 1 gets sucked into batteries that could get to a crunch point when there is not enough for everybody, including the 5% necessary for stainless-steel.”
The nickel price has been fluctuating in the last month between $5.50 and $6.00 per pound. Jarvis said, “it is a volatile commodity that has ranged between $4 and $24 a pound over the last 15 years.”. He concluded, “$9 per pound is the incentive price for large new nickel projects to get built, according to Wood MacKenzie.”
Jarvis updated Resource World on Giga Metals Corp.’s [GIGA-TSXV; HNCKF-OTCQB; BRR2-FSE] Turnagain Project located in north-central British Columbia. Turnagain is a large, low-grade sulphide nickel deposit with measured and indicated resources of 5.2 billion pounds of nickel and 312 million pounds of cobalt and inferred resources of 5.5 billion pounds of nickel and 327 million pounds of cobalt.
The company is currently working on a PEA, expected to be out in Q2 2020. Jarvis told Resource World that Giga is conducting metallurgic testing that can increase recoveries which will significantly improve the project’s economics and the PEA’s numbers. The open pit mine being modelled is expected to have a 38-year-mine-life and has a strip ratio of less than 1:1.
Jarvis said the company is looking for investors/partners to bring the project to feasibility and to do an environmental assessment.
A brief survey of nickel companies’ activities:
BatteryOne Royalty Corp. is a private royalty company focused on nickel and copper deposits in Tier 1 one jurisdictions with an emphasis on proven mining camps. BatteryOne’s secondary emphasis is on cobalt, tin, lithium, graphite, lead and zinc deposits. The company reports that it will, “shortly commence the listing process with the TSX Venture Exchange with the objective of completing it later in 2020.”
Bolt Metals Corp.’s [BOLT-CSE] (formerly Pacific Rim Cobalt) flagship Cyclops laterite nickel-cobalt property is in Papua Province, Indonesia. The project has environmental and mining permits, year-round access, good infrastructure and a local workforce.
In 2020, Bolt Metals’ plans include “preparations to commission and operate a pilot process test plant in Canada, which will contain an integrated circuit to produce high purity nickel and cobalt strip solutions, required to develop battery-grade material,”
According to a February 24 news release, the company also plans to produce a maiden 43-101 resource estimate.
Canada Nickel Company Inc. [CNC-TSXV] announced, February 28, a maiden mineral resource estimate for its 100% owned Crawford nickel-cobalt sulphide project in the Timmins-Cochrane mining camp in Ontario.
The company reported a maiden resource with a higher grade core of measured and indicated resource of approximately 263 million tonnes at 0.31% nickel, 0.013% cobalt, and 0.038 g/t Pd + Pt within an overall measured and indicated resource of approximately 600 million tonnes at 0.25% nickel, and 0.013% cobalt, and an additional higher grade inferred resource of approximately 66 million tonnes at 0.29% nickel and 0.013% cobalt within an overall inferred resource of approximately 310 million tonnes at 0.23% nickel and 0.013% cobalt.
Mark Selby, Chair and CEO of Canada Nickel said, “With exploration activities and mineralogy work well underway, we expect a steady stream of news flow that will underpin an exciting inaugural year for the company.”
In an April 6 news release, Canada Nickel reported the discovery of a new palladium-platinum zone discovered while drilling the remaining holes from the initial drilling campaign on the main anomaly at Crawford.
FPX Nickel [FPX-TSXV] is developing the large-scale Decar Nickel District in central British Columbia which hosts their 100%-owned, PEA-stage, Baptiste awaruite deposit, which the company says, “has the potential to become one of the largest nickel mines in Canada.”
On February 25, 2020, FPX announced the appointment of BBA Inc. as lead engineer and consultant for the preparation of an updated NI 43-101 preliminary economic assessment (PEA) expected in Q3 or Q4 2020.
The company’s recent successful leach testing of high-grade nickel concentrates confirmed nickel recoveries up to 99.5%, producing a high-concentration nickel-cobalt chemical solution suitable for electric vehicle batteries. Martin Turenne, FPX President and CEO said, “This testing confirms the potential for the production of nickel sulphate and cobalt sulphate from awaruite ore in a simple three-stage process encompassing ore beneficiation, pressure leaching, and solvent extraction.”
FPX’s other 100%-owned nickel properties include the Orca Wale and Klow in BC and the Mich property in Yukon.
Garibaldi Resources Corp. [GGI-TSXV; GGIFF-OTC; RQM-FSE] continues to report impressive drill results from their Flagship Nickel Mountain Project near Eskay Creek, in British Columbia’s Golden Triangle. This magmatic nickel-copper-rich massive sulphide deposit also includes palladium, platinum, cobalt, gold, silver and PGE rare metals including rhodium.
February 21, 2020 reported highlights include, from drill hole EL-19-82, 9.83 metres of massive sulphides grading 7.2% nickel, 3.6% copper and 4.8 g/t palladium-platinum-gold, expanding and thickening the Lower Discovery Zone (LDZ) to the north. Three metres above, in the same hole, is an extremely high-grade 38-cm vein that returned 10.0 g/t palladium, 4.3 g/t platinum, 0.12% cobalt, 3.4 g/t gold, 26.0 g/t silver, 6.5% Ni and 4.8% Cu.
The company states, “A total of 84 drill holes have now been completed at Nickel Mountain since the initial discovery in 2017. The extent of the E&L Intrusion and associated nickel-copper-rich mineralization has yet to be delimited.”
Garibaldi has several additional exploration projects in British Columbia and Mexico.
Lundin Mining Corp. [LUN-TSX; LUNMF-OTC; LUMI-Sweden] produces nickel and copper concentrate from their 100%-owned, underground Eagle Mine in Michigan, USA. Production guidance and outlook for 2020 – 2022 for Eagle is 15,000 – 18,000 tonnes of nickel and 15,000 – 18,000 tonnes of copper. The mine produces ~2,000 tpd and transports ore to the Humboldt mill for processing using a three-stage crushing and single stage ball mill process flotation to produce separate nickel and copper concentrates.
In September of 2019, Lundin announced an increase in the Probable Mineral Reserve estimate for the Eagle East ore body extending Eagle Mine’s life by over a year to mid-2025.
The company expects cash costs in 2020 to reduce year-on-year to $1.00/lb nickel after by-product credits as higher grades from Eagle East reduce per pound unit costs.
Lundin operations include the Candelaria copper gold mine (Chile), the Chapada copper gold mine (Brazil), the Neves-Covo copper zinc mine (Portugal) and the Zinkgruvan copper zinc mine (Sweden).
Nickel Creek Platinum Corp. [NCP-TSX; NCPCF-OTCQB; P94P-FSE] is advancing its 100% owned Nickel Shaw Project towards becoming Canada’s next nickel sulphide mine. The Yukon property is host to over 2 billion pounds of nickel, 1 billion pounds of copper, 6 million ounces of platinum group metals (PGMs) and 120 million pounds of cobalt in the measured and indicated categories. The company describes the deposit as large, open pittable with significant payable metals.
A 2019 geophysics program that tested the Quill exploration target area identified several strong conductors that warrant drilling.
Nickel Creek reported, April 7, that it has closed tranche 1 of its private placement of 13,436,635 units for gross proceeds of ~$672,000 to be used for the investigation of strategic transactions, permitting activities and holding costs, general corporate and working capital purposes, and a 2020 field exploration program.
RNC Minerals Corp. [RNX-TSX; RNKLF-OTCQX] has a 28% stake in the JV that owns the Dumont Project in Québec’s Abitibi mining camp.
RNC describes the Dumont Project as one of the world’s largest undeveloped, permitted and shovel-ready nickel sulphide deposits containing approximately 6.1 billion pounds of nickel in the proven and probable reserve categories and 9.75 billion pounds of nickel resources in the measured and indicated category, enough nickel for a 30-year-mine-life.
RNC also has 100% ownership of the producing Beta Hunt gold mine in Western Australia and a 33% interest in Orford Mining Corp. exploring underexplored areas of Northern Québec and the Carolina Gold Belt in the United States.
RNC estimates a construction schedule of 2 years after securing financing and completing detailed engineering.
Sherritt International Corp. [S-TSX], one of the world’s largest producers of nickel from lateritic sources, has operations in Canada, Cuba and Madagascar.
The company’s Moa Joint Venture (50% Sherritt, 50% General Nickel Company S.A. of Cuba) mines and refines nickel from lateritic sources located in Moa, Cuba and Fort Saskatchewan in Alberta, Canada, producing class 1 nickel and high-grade cobalt products. In 2019 Moa produced 33,108 tonnes of nickel and 3,376 tonnes of cobalt.
In Madagascar, Sherritt’s Ambatovy nickel cobalt JV (operator Sherritt 12%, other partners include Sumitomo and Korea Resources Corporation) mines, processes, refines and markets Class I finished nickel. In 2019, production at Ambatovy was 33,733 tonnes of finished nickel and 2,900 tonnes of cobalt.
Sherritt licenses its proprietary technologies and provides metallurgical services to mining and refining operations worldwide.
Glencore PLC [GLEN-LSE; GLN-Jo’burg; GLNCY-OTC] owns and operates the Raglan Mine located 15 km south of the northern tip of the Ungava (Nunavik) Peninsula in far northern Quebec. The company is currently operating four underground mines at Raglan that generate 100% of the project’s total ore production: Katinniq, Mine 2, Kikialik and Qakimarjurq.
Approximately 1.3 million tonnes of ore is treated annually at the concentrator resulting in more than 39,000 tonnes of nickel-in-concentrate annually. Mill capacity is 3,000 tonnes per day.
The nickel concentrate is trucked 100 km to the Deception Bay seaport facilities, where it is stored in a dome warehouse until shipped to Quebec City via the 27,000-metric tonne capacity ice breaker (MV Arctic). Upon arrival, the concentrate is shipped by rail to Glencore’s smelter in Sudbury, Ontario. There the concentrate is melted and cast into matte, which is sent back to Québec City via rail, then shipped to Glencore’s refinery in the coastal city of Kristiansand, Norway, where the unwrought mineral is turned into pure metals before being sold globally.
Vale [VALE-NYSE], headquartered in Brazil, is the world’s largest producer of iron ore and iron ore pellets and the world’s largest producer of nickel with nickel mines and operations in Brazil (Onça Puma), Canada (Sudbury, Ontario; Thompson, Manitoba; Voisey’s Bay, Labrador), Indonesia (PTVI), and New Caledonia (VNC) as well as fully-owned and joint venture refineries in China, South Korea, Japan, the U.K. and Taiwan.
Vale’s reported production of finished nickel reached 208 kt in 2019, in line with the annual guidance of 210–220 kt, and 15.0% lower than 2018. Vale stated, in the production report, that lower 2019 production “reflected lower feed from third parties, lower source ore from Thompson and VNC, the latter due to limited availability of process plant operational assets during the year, as well as lower production from Onça Puma prior to receiving judicial authorisation to resume both mine and processing activities in September.”
The company stated that nickel operations were also impacted during the year due to maintenance shutdowns at the North Atlantic refineries, which have been resumed and are now operating at regular rates.
The refining activities in VNC, responsible for processing the feed into nickel oxide, will cease from April 2020 onwards, as part of the process to improve short-term cash flow. With this flowsheet simplification, VNC’s nickel product mix will be solely comprised of nickel hydroxide cake.
KGHM Polska Miedz SA’s [KGH-Warsaw] is a multinational miner whose assets include the 100%-owned copper nickel Victoria Project, located in Ontario, 35 km west of Sudbury. KGHM says, “The project is currently in the phase of development and analysis.”
Based on 2017 analytical work, the baseline scenario assumes two phases of development: the sinking of the first shaft, with additional exploration work and, later, the sinking of the production shaft. KGHM plans to process the ore at Vale’s Clarabelle plant in Sudbury.
In Sudbury KGHM also has McCreedy West underground mine now in production.