A ban by Indonesia on the export of unprocessed ores containing nickel will not affect the startup of Vale’s new hydromet processing facility in Long Harbour.
As previously reported, the plan for the facility in Newfoundland and Labrador is to use nickel matte from Indonesia during startup, before transitioning to ore from the Voisey’s Bay mine in Labrador as a main feed.
The Indonesian nickel matte, at about 78 per cent nickel, is considered less likely to cause difficulties for the Long Harbour commissioning in comparison to the material from Voisey’s Bay, at about 20 per cent nickel, as individual parts of the multibillion-dollar plant are checked and made ready for regular use.
According to Vale’s vice-president of corporate affairs in Toronto, Cory McPhee, the mining giant has been conscious of the potential for the ban on raw exports from Indonesia for years, as the company has multiple processing facilities in that country.
“The Indonesian restrictions on exports of unprocessed ore were first signaled by the Indonesian government years ago with the 2009 Mining Law which included stipulations calling for value-added domestic processing,” McPhee said in an emailed response to questions Thursday.
The law stated by 2014, companies would have to do a certain amount of processing or refining in the country. It took effect this January.
“Vale’s operations in Indonesia are unaffected by the change as we produce a refined nickel product (nickel matte) that meets the processing threshold,” he said.
In February, Vale also obtained a required permit for exporting its nickel matte product from Indonesia.
Nickel prices on the rise
While not affecting the availability of product needed at Long Harbour, the Indonesian ban is resulting in an upswing in nickel price forecasts, as global supply is expected to be strained by a drop in Indonesian exports.
“World mined nickel supplies will plunge by 20 per cent in 2014 due to the Indonesian ban,” stated
a report issued by Scotiabank Wednesday.
The bank has revised its predictions on nickel prices to an average US$8.30 in 2014, US$10.75 in 2015 and US$12.50 in 2016.
Prices have reportedly moved from US$6.31 per pound in early 2014 to a high of US$9.62 in mid-May.
Vale issued its own evaluation of the near future for nickel prices, in an earnings report issued April 30.
“Up to now, nickel prices have continued to be strong, having moved above US$18,000/t in late April. As the Indonesian ore exports accounted for over 20 per cent of world refined production in 2013, and as the Indonesian ore exports ban are expected to go on for the foreseeable future, we anticipate that prices will keep trending upward into coming quarters,” it stated.
The report also noted first nickel at the new Long Harbour processing facility is expected by the end of the second quarter.