Melbourne-based BHP Billiton today announced approval for the development of the Ravensthorpe Project and related expansion of the Yabulu Nickel Refinery in Australia.
The combined project is said to include the development of a mine, treatment plant and associated infrastructure near Ravensthorpe, Western Australia and the expansion of the QNI Yabulu Refinery near Townsville in Queensland. The cost for the combined project is expected to be $1.4 billion.
The Ravensthorpe processing plant will employ an Enhanced Pressure Acid Leach (EPAL) hydrometallurgical process, which is a combination of pressure acid leach and atmospheric leach, producing a mixed nickel and cobalt hydroxide intermediate product (MHP). The MHP will contain up to 50,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) nickel and 1400tpa cobalt and will be packaged and shipped through the Port of Esperance to Townsville for final refining at the QNI Yabulu Refinery.
According to BHP Billiton, the project will increase nickel production capacity from the expanded Yabulu Refinery by more than 140% from 31,200tpa to an estimated 76,000tpa, with the life of the refinery being extended by approximately 25 years.
‘The project is designed to enable optimal utilisation of all ore types within the Ravensthorpe resource. The refinery element of the process is a brownfield expansion of the existing, proven Yabulu nickel and cobalt refinery, meaning risks traditionally associated with a new project are substantially reduced,’ said Chris Pointon, President Stainless Steel Materials.
He added that the project was the next major step in BHP Billiton’s global nickel growth strategy since the Cerro Matoso Line 2 expansion in Colombia.
New production will reportedly boost BHP Billiton’s combined nickel production capacity from its Australian and Colombian operations from 85,000tpa to more than 130,000tpa by 2007. Cobalt production will increase from 2000tpa to 3400tpa.
Construction is expected to commence in Ravensthorpe and Yabulu by late 2004, with first nickel metal production from the expanded Yabulu refinery expected in late 2007.