BHP Billiton Group is looking at accelerating its phase two expansion to 200,000 tonnes of nickel sulfate per annum after receiving strong interest from potential customers.
The company revealed in early August that it approved funding of US$43.2 million for a project at the Kwinana refinery in Western Australia that will allow the mining heavyweight to produce an initial 100,000 tonnes per annum of nickel sulfate from 2019 to supply the global battery market.
"Our potential customer visits have really confirmed to us that we have timed our entry to the nickel sulfate market very well," Eduard Haegel, Asset President BHP Nickel West, told delegates Oct. 17 at the Australian Nickel Conference in Perth.
"The expressed interest in our nickel sulfate is so strong that we are now reviewing the timing for stage two with a view of bringing forward our plans."
Stage two, if approved, would double production to 200,000 tonnes per annum, which Haegel said would make Nickel West the largest nickel sulfate producer globally.
Subject to regulatory approvals, BHP expects to complete stage one in April 2019, with major construction activities starting this November.
As part of its push to become a globally significant battery material supplier, BHP Nickel West is looking at options to extend the life of its assets through the discovery and development of new mines, including Yakabindie and Venus.
The company is also planning on expanding the Kwinana refinery to enable more of its product to be converted to Class 1 refined metal.
"Our next mid-term aspirational target is to achieve 84,000 tonnes," Haegel noted.
Industry expectations for battery market growth is between 25% and 40% to 2025.
Haegel said that to achieve this growth, it will require large capacity expansions throughout the supply chain.
"Analysts expect battery costs to continue to fall and sometime around 2025 for these costs to match that of an equivalent internal combustion engine, nominally US$100 per kilowatt hour," he said.
"This is the magic number — it is at this point that electric vehicle sales are expected to really take off."