September 2022
The future of nickel needs to be green. Nickel processing currently contributes to 0.27% of global emissions. With demand coming from the battery sector to fuel the energy transition, supply needs to keep up in terms of carbon and ESG requirements.

In Australia, nickel mineralisation occurs as both sulphides and laterites. The production of one tonne of class 1 nickel from sulphide ores emits an average of 10kt of carbon equivalents, while processing laterites emits 19kt.

Meaning that production from sulphides automatically have a smaller carbon footprint. Moreover, Australian miners are switching to renewables rapidly. The largest operation in the country, BHP’s Nickel West, will be fully powered by solar and wind by 2024.


The Low Carbon Mining Landscape

The Australian government is pledging net zero carbon by 2050, in line with the requirements of the Paris Agreement. It has also set an interim target of 43% emissions reduction by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. In 2020, the country emitted 392Mt of carbon from its economic activities.

The government will be restoring the Climate Change Authority to suggest emissions related policy changes. It is also implementing the Emissions Reduction Fund to incentivise industrial emissions reduction. This functions in the same way as a carbon credit trade scheme. A safeguard mechanism is in place to prevent emissions from exceeding baseline levels. This scheme applies to companies with Scope 1 emissions of above 100ktpa. 

Over 96% of the country’s reserve is located in Western Australia. Mining policies are quite friendly in the country. The government has been granting developing mineral projects Major Project Status to fast-track developments such as funding application and permits approvals. This includes Ardea’s Kalgoorlie Nickel Project, which is being advanced to a Definitive Feasibility Study.


Finished Nickel Supply

Australia is forecast to produce 26kt of finished nickel from its refineries in the September quarter, and 102kt in 2022. Finished supply is then forecast to grow at a CAGR of 7.5% and reach 146kt in 2027. This will be a result of increased demand from the battery sector leading to increased high-grade products production. As large-scale high-grade sulphide projects deplete in the longer-term, supply is forecast to decrease. By 2040 finished supply is forecast to be 107kt.

In BHP’s integrated Nickel West, sulphate production has commenced at Australia’s first nickel sulphate plant, which began producing in the December quarter of 2021. The facility will have a nameplate capacity of 100,000tpa of nickel sulphate.

Ore from Mount Keith, Leinster, Yakabindie, and the satellite mines Cliffs and Venus, are processed at the Kalgoorlie smelter. Produced matte is then sent to the Kwinana refinery and processed into class 1 powder and briquettes. The Kambalda concentrator processes ore from other miners in the region such as Mincor Resources, with whom BHP has a concentrate offtake agreement.

BHP aims to reduce Scopes 1, 2 and 3 of its emissions by 30% by 2030 from 2020, and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. In 2021, Nickel West emitted 530kt of Scope 1, and 550kt of Scope 2 emissions from its operated assets.

The company will source power from the Flat Rocks Wind Farm and the Merredin Solar Farm, which will fully power the project when they come online in 2024. Total Scope 2 emissions are expected to reduce by 60%. By the end of 2022, over 51k solar panels will have been installed at Mount Keith, and another 20k at Leinster.




There are two HPALs in the country. One of which is Glencore’s Murrin Murrin project, which is operated by Glencore’s wholly owned subsidiary Minara Resources. Ore is sourced from the Goldfields open cut mines and processed into class 1 nickel and cobalt briquettes.

Glencore is targeting a 50% reduction in total emissions by 2035, and zero carbon by 2050. In 2021 the company emitted a total of 2,400kt in Scope 1 emissions and 50kt in Scope 2 emissions from its global nickel operations.

The other HPAL operation is First Quantum’s 70% owned Ravensthorpe Nickel Operation joint venture. Laterite ore is mined from three different open pits and processed into mixed hydroxide precipitates.

First Quantum is aiming for a 50% reduction in absolute emissions by 2030. In 2021, the Ravensthorpe operation emitted a total of 167kt in Scope 1 emissions. The recently constructed overland ore conveying system will further reduce the project’s carbon footprint.


Mined Nickel Supply

Australia is forecast to supply 61kt of mined nickel in the September quarter, and 237kt in 2022. An annual growth rate of 3.6% is expected in the medium term, which will bring nickel in concentrate production to 283kt by 2027. This supply is expected to continue growing out to 2040, to 462kt.

Mined nickel growth will come from projects that are currently in the exploration stage, as established large-scale sulphide projects like Nickel West reach depletion. This list of new projects includes Lunnon Metals’ Baker Shoot and Raiden Resources’ Mt Sholl, which have both expanded their project areas by acquiring additional leases.

IGO has completed the full acquisition of Western Areas. This adds Cosmos and Forrestania to IGO’s existing Nova operations. Nickel concentrates are produced and sold to BHP and Trafigura under offtake agreements. The company is also developing a new patented process to produce nickel sulphate directly from sulphide concentrates, this will be less power intensive than the traditional processing method.

IGO intends to be carbon neutral as early as 2035. In 2021, a total of 63kt of Scope 1 and 138t of Scope 2 emissions were released from all projects. This includes emissions from both Nova and IGO’s 30% owned Tropicana Gold Mine nearby. An estimated 6.6kt of carbon have been avoided by the utilisation of the Nova solar farm, which powers 11% of the project’s total energy consumption. IGO is also considering the electrification of its mining fleet.

Mincor Resources has delivered the first load of ore from its Kambalda Nickel Operations to be processed at BHP’s newly revamped Kambalda concentrator. Mincor is focusing on ramping up production at both the Cassini and Northern Operations mining centres.

Mincor also owns the Miitel site, which is an old nickel mine that produced 2.5Mt of ore at 2.9% nickel from 2000 to 2016. The project was placed on care and maintenance in February 2016 due to low nickel prices.

All ore produced from Mincor’s operations will be processed at BHP’s concentrator and the resultant concentrates will be sold via offtake agreements. In 2021 the company emitted less than 12kt of Scope 1 and 2 emissions, as its operations are still ramping up.

The Avebury mine in Tasmania has finally resumed production after being in suspension for 14 years. Mallee Resources acquired 100% of the project through the administration of Allegiance Mining. As of August, 18kt of ore have been mined and stockpiled for when the processing facility comes online.

The company is in the process of raising A$20-70m (US$13.8-48.4m) in capital to fund operations restart, processing capacity expansion and further exploration programmes. It is also considering the purchase of electric mining equipment to replace to currently diesel-powered ones.



Finding Nickel

There are numerous exploration projects scattered around Western Australian. This includes Poseidon Nickel’s Black Swan, which has just updated its Resource Estimate to 28.9Mt of ore at 0.63% nickel. The project also has a 2.2Mtpa processing plant under care and maintenance.

Auroch Minerals has also increased the Resource Estimate of the Saints project to 991kt of ore at 2.3% nickel. At the same time, Western Mines continues to progress the Mulga Tank project with drilling returning significant mineralisation from the Panhandle extension.