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Nickel West

Nickel West is a fully integrated mine-to-market nickel business with over 3500 employees and contractors. All nickel operations (open-cut and underground mines, concentrators, a smelter and refinery) are located in Western Australia. The integrated business adds value throughout our nickel supply chain, with the majority of Nickel West’s current production sold as powder and briquettes.

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Low-grade disseminated sulphide ore is mined from Mt Keith, a large open-pit operation. The ore is crushed and processed on-site to produce nickel concentrate. High-grade nickel sulphide ore is mined at Cliffs and Leinster underground mines and Rocky’s Reward open-pit mine. The ore is processed through a concentrator and dryer at Leinster. Nickel West’s concentrator plant in Kambalda processes ore and concentrate purchased from third parties.

The three streams of nickel concentrate come together at the Nickel West Kalgoorlie smelter, a vital part of our integrated business. The smelter uses a flash furnace to smelt concentrate to produce nickel matte. Nickel West Kwinana then refines granulated nickel matte from the Kalgoorlie smelter into premium-grade nickel powder and briquettes containing 99.8 per cent nickel. Nickel matte and metal are exported to overseas markets via the Port of Fremantle. Over 75% of BHP’s nickel is now sold to global battery material suppliers. A nickel sulphate plant is currently under construction at the Kwinana Nickel Refinery which will produce nickel sulphate, a product used in the lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles. 

Nickel West is well positioned to be a part of a rapidly growing global battery materials supply chain

Our people share how BHP will seize the opportunities an electrified market presents with the roll-out of electric vehicles.

Key developments during FY2018

In FY2018, Nickel West began its transition to become a global supplier to the battery materials market, approving funding and beginning preparatory works for the first phase of a nickel sulphate plant which will be located at the Kwinana Nickel Refinery. Stage 1 is expected to produce 100 ktpa of nickel sulphate. A mini-plant has been constructed to deliver samples of nickel sulphate product to customers.

In FY2018, we continued to progress regulatory environmental approvals and consulted with Traditional Owners regarding a satellite pit at the Mt Keith operation, which will supply ore to the Mt Keith concentrator.

The Venus project has been approved for execution at the Leinster Nickel operation, with definitional drilling and development having commenced. A study reviewed the resource beneath the Perseverance Sub-Level Cave and recommended the installation of a small Block Cave. Pre-commitment funding to start the development on 1 July 2018 was approved.

Looking ahead

First production from the nickel sulphate plant at the Kwinana Nickel Refinery is expected at the end of FY2019. We continue to explore options for a Stage 2, 200 kt nickel sulphate facility. We will continue test work on a cobalt sulphate circuit plant at the Kwinana Nickel Refinery, which would produce a cobalt sulphate product.

At Mt Keith, we will commence mining at the Mt Keith Satellite Project, subject to regulatory approvals.

At Leinster, we anticipate declaring reserves for Venus and commencing production by the end of FY2019. We will potentially start developing the Leinster Block Cave and begin an extensive exploration program utilising the underground platform created by the Venus drives.

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