Ardea Resources has tabled an updated nickel-cobalt-manganese resource that contains a higher-grade core that the company says will be suitable for creating products to feed the burgeoning battery metals markets. The company’s new resource tips the scales at 60 million tonnes going 1.0 per cent nickel and 0.07 per cent cobalt, with significant credits of both manganese and scandium present.
Recent test work also backs up work from the company’s existing feasibility study, showing the deposit to be a veritable metallurgical swiss army knife capable of producing a tailored nickel-cobalt product.
Importantly, the new calculation shows a 22 per cent rise in the nickel grade.
The company has also delivered a maiden resource for scandium at the project, a specialised technology metal contained within the ore system which weighs in at a tidy 74 million tonnes at 35 parts per million scandium, potentially delivering a valuable by-product stream to the project.
The GNCP R&D product studies and resource update is the culmination of 12 months’ work and demonstrates that the GNCP is one of the largest and most strategic nickel-cobalt deposits in the developed world.
Most importantly for future project development, using a 0.8% nickel cut-off grade, the MRE is 60 million tonnes at 1% nickel with strong cobalt, scandium and aluminium credits. This is a significant project advancement.
The GNCP also has significant manganese credits and thus has potential for Precursor Cathode Active Material (PCAM) for use in lithium-ion batteries (LIB). Of significance, the nickel-cobalt-manganese for use in NCM811 cathodes – 8 parts nickel, 1 part cobalt and 1 part manganese – approximates the KNP in-ground metal ratio.
Ardea’s Goongarrie nickel-cobalt project, or “GNCP” is located around 70 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia’s gold and nickel-rich Eastern Goldfields. The GNCP forms part of Ardea’s 100 per cent owned Kalgoorlie nickel project, or “KNP” which covers more than 1,700 square kilometres of the fertile mineral terrane surrounding Kalgoorlie and it hosts a global resource of 828 million tonnes at 0.7 per cent nickel and 0.05 per cent cobalt.
The KNP is one of the world’s largest undeveloped nickel resources and is uniquely placed to deliver ethically-sourced battery minerals, with an embarrassment of infrastructure already existing throughout the region.
Infrastructure in the region includes roads, rail and power, all of which pass through the GNCP project area, whilst the Goldfields Gas Transmission line runs just 30km to the east of the project whilst rail provides access to the port of Esperance in the south and the Kwinana industrial complex near Perth.
The company is now updating its PFS, specifically looking at the various ore types in the GNCP and it is proposing the construction of a 2 million tonne per annum high pressure acid leach plant at the project. Sourcing feed from the Goongarrie South, Big Four and Scotia Dam discoveries, Ardea estimates a minimum 25-year mine life, with the very real prospect of extending the mine life dramatically by bringing a raft of other resources hosted by the KNP, into the mine plan.
One of the greatest attributes of the GNCP ore is its amenability to processing. Utilising acid leaching to dissolve the predominantly limonitic ores, the intermediate liquor can be further processed to make a range of nickel-cobalt-rich products which can be tailored to the end-user’s requirements, including nickel and cobalt sulphates and a nickel-cobalt-manganese product – all of which can be used to produce battery cathodes according to company management.
Previous pilot plant test work has demonstrated that nickel and cobalt sulphate products can be readily manufactured from the project’s ore, however with the GNCP mineralisation showing a disposition towards a Precursor Cathode Active Material, or “PCAM” due the elevated manganese content of the ore, the nickel-rich system is beginning to show it possesses a high level of versatility in terms of the products it might produce from a dynamic flowsheet.
The GNCP acid liquor may also host a treasure trove of high-value metals associated with the nickel oxide mineralisation, with the company’s ongoing testing program quickly formulating accessory flow sheets to readily extract high-purity alumina, scandium and rare earth elements from the processing stream. The recent advances in the potential processing routes for the GNCP ores is assisting in unlocking the value of the deposits and enhancing the economics of the proposed operation.
Ardea’s 2018 PFS delivered an eye-catching set of numbers, including a pre-tax net present value of $1.93 billion and an internal rate of return of 29 per cent, however, with recent work building on the company’s resources and refining the flow sheet, these figures look set for an update in the coming months.
With the nickel price now punching above its 8-year peak trading at over US$18,000 per tonne, Ardea’s timing couldn’t be better and it looks as though the company will have plenty to crow about as work continues over its colossal nickel project in WA over the course of 2021.
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