Materials supply chain intelligence company Roskill expects Indonesia to become the world’s largest producer of refined nickel this year, pushing China to second place. As recently as 2014, Indonesia produced only 24 kilotons of refined nickel. In 2020, Indonesia produced 636 kt of refined nickel, most of which was nickel pig iron (NPI) for the domestic and Chinese stainless steel industry. This level of production made the country the world’s second-largest nickel producer behind China.
Indonesia is encouraging investment in nickel for EV batteries. This type of nickel requires a more complex and costly leaching process, rather than the relatively straightforward pyrometallurgical process used to produce NPI.
A paper presented at the 2019 International Conference on Mining and Environmental Technology in Indonesia noted that high-pressure acid leaching (HPAL) is a proven technology, but is not used in Indonesia due to the high investment needed, and the requirement for a large site for waste disposal.
Nickel limonite ore with grades of 1.1-1.4% can be processed using HPAL technology to produce more than 37% nickel and cobalt. China’s Ningbo Lygend will process nickel ore at a plant on Indonesia’s Obi island,using HPAL technology at temperatures of 240° C to 270° C and pressures from 3,400 kPa to 5,600 kPa.
Lygend’s plant, which has a design capacity of 35 kt Ni-in-mixed hydroxide product (MHP) in its first phase, will initially supply the third-party market before becoming fully integrated to produce nickel sulfate, supplying the EV battery market, Roskill said.
Once the second phase is operational, the plant will have a total design capacity of 52 kt/year Ni-in-nickel sulfate, as well as 6 kt/year of Co-in-sulfate. The first MHP is expected to be produced in May.