Innovation Metals Corp. is pleased to report on the successful separation of nickel and cobalt from nickel-laterite ores at the pilot scale, using its proprietary RapidSX™ process for the low-cost separation of technology metals.
The patent-pending RapidSX process has previously been used to successfully separate rare-earth elements ("REEs") from concentrates (as recently announced in IMC's news release dated February 18, 2016). The process was more recently applied to the separation of nickel, cobalt and other valuable metals, from a pregnant leach solution ("PLS") produced from a bulk sample provided by a major miner of nickel-laterite ores. Commercial-grade (99.6%+) purities were obtained.
"In addition to utilizing IMC's RapidSX process for the separation and purification of these valuable metals once in solution," said Patrick Wong, CEO of IMC, "we have combined a unique, proprietary chloride-based leaching process for producing the PLS, with a cost-saving acid-regeneration step. This allows us to extract and to monetize over 80% of the metals present in these ores (compared to the typical 2-3% seen with current laterite-ore processes), while reducing acid consumption and cost. We are now looking for Strategic and Financial Partners who can see the benefit of such an approach to lateritic-ore processing."
Nickel is of vital importance in the manufacturing of stainless steel, other steel, non-ferrous and super alloys, as well as plating, metal-hydride rechargeable batteries and catalysts. Cobalt is essential for the production of Li-ion rechargeable batteries, super alloys, cutting tools, high-performance magnets, catalysts and other applications. Almost all cobalt, however, is produced as a by-product of copper and nickel mining, and sustainable sources can only be achieved through low-cost extraction methods.
"Existing nickel-sulfide deposits are being depleted through mining," commented Gareth Hatch, President of IMC, "with few high-quality exploration targets on the horizon. Nickel-laterite deposits are therefore set to become the most important source of nickel in the future. In addition, future demand for cobalt in Li-ion batteries is projected to grow dramatically, as electric vehicles take increasing market share in the automotive sector. This combination of factors, makes it vital that the industry has access to efficient processes for producing nickel and cobalt from lateritic ores, that are cost effective even at today's relatively low prices for these metals. We believe that IMC's approach is one such process."
The RapidSX approach reduces the number of solvent-extraction ("SX") steps required for nickel and cobalt separation, by over 50% when compared to conventional SX, leading to a significant reduction in plant footprint and associated capital expenditures. The process also leads to dramatic reductions in operating costs and time to process completion, avoiding the need for expensive resins or other separation approaches unproven at scale. It was originally developed as a result of IMC's participation in a recent process-development program, funded by the US Army Research Laboratory, part of the US Department of Defense.
IMC's overall process approach for nickel and cobalt includes the electrowinning of the metals produced via the RapidSX process. The multi-stage approach also produces a number of other, valuable commercial-grade metallic compounds, of significant interest to the specialty-chemicals industry.
"We are pleased to add the successful production of commercial-grade nickel and cobalt, to the previous milestone of separating REEs using the RapidSX process," said Mr. Wong. "We are in advanced discussions with a number of potential lateritic-ore feedstock suppliers and customers, and we are particularly keen to partner with existing industry players, who would benefit significantly from the overall IMC approach. The next step is to complete our pilot-scale program, ahead of building a demonstration plant for the production of nickel, cobalt and other valuable products, from lateritic ores. This plant will produce over 1,000 tonnes of nickel and 150 tonnes of cobalt per year."