‘Awakening’ the potential of nickel in Viet Nam

With the forecasted increased use of electric vehicles, all eyes are on the metals used to produce electric batteries, including nickel, with worldwide reserves currently estimated at around 89 million tons.

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Paronama of ore-grinding mill at Ban Phuc Nickel Mine

Nickel, a silvery-white metal with a lustrous surface, is one of many sought-after global resources, as it is widely used in future technologies such as batteries for electric vehicles.

Recently, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) added nickel to its proposed list of “50 important minerals” – based on how essential they are to the economy, national security, and how prone the supply chain is to disruption – while four other minerals, including Potassium , have been dropped from the 2021 list.

In a talk with the Government News, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ngo Xuan Thanh (Ha Noi University of Mining and Geology) said that, about 70% of the world’s nickel is for stainless steel production, 17% for “super alloys” and 7% for plating industry, the rest is used in other fields such as rechargeable batteries, catalyst and other chemical agents.

“Recently, the socio-economic development in the country and the world boosted the demand for metal materials, batteries for electric vehicles. The proportion of nickel metal used in producing batteries currently accounts for about 4% of the total world nickel production”, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ngo Xuan Thanh said.

As forecasted, in the coming period, as the amount of nickel used in battery for electric vehicles increases and as the scale of battery production is expanded, the required quantity of nickel will increase significantly. Moreover, in the context of the growing stainless steel manufacturing industry, nickel consumption is expected to continue to increase in the coming period (from 2.4 million tons in 2019 to 2.8 million tons in by 2025), with the growth rate being  about 2.2% a year.

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Blackstone Minerals is developing three closely monitored projects in the North of Viet Nam

Nickel potential

According to a study by MSc Dao Cong Vu posted on the Institute of Mining and Metallurgy Science and Technology website (Ministry of Industry and Trade), Viet Nam’s total nickel reserves and resources are estimated at 3.6 million tons of metallic nickel concentrated mainly in the provinces of Thanh Hoa (3,067,020 tons), Son La (420,523 tons), and Cao Bang (133,677 tons).

Most nickel resources exist in the form of accompanying minerals in chromium ore, in the Co Dinh Chromite Mine (Thanh Hoa). Currently, there is no effective recovery solution. Nickel ores in the Son La and Cao Bang areas are mainly diffused nickel-copper ores.

According to MSc Dao Cong Vu, the most appropriate development orientation of nickel deep-processing technology today is the production of nickel salt preparations and cooperation with enterprises with source technology to produce batteries from domestic nickel ore sources. Achieving that goal will mean meeting the electric vehicle industry’s needs for developing renewable energy and effectively promoting Vietnam’s precious natural resources.

In 2018, the Prime Minister approved the plan for the exploration, exploitation, processing and use of gold, copper, nickel and molybdenum ores up to 2025, with a vision to 2035, which clearly states directions for nickel minerals. Accordingly, the expected mining output is 118 thousand tons of nickel concentrate, investing and putting into operation 2 nickel factories with a total output of about 8,000 – 11,000 tons/year.

Closed loop value chain

Blackstone Minerals, an Australian owned exploration and mining company is developing three closely related projects in the north of Vietnam. Blackstone’s vision is to be a leader in the battery revolution and it’s mission is a simple one: Green batteries. Brighter Future.

In 2019, Blackstone announced the acquisition of 90% of Ban Phuc Nickel Mine Co. Ltd., in Ban Phuc commune, Bac Yen district, Son La province about 160km from Hanoi.

Developing Ta Khoa requires rigorous and extensive testing and design work to ensure it meets all government environmental and social standards and obtains all the required licenses and permits. This work is currently underway and is expected to continue for the next 12 months.

Blackstone is focused on developing an integrated upstream (mining) and downstream (refining) battery metals processing business in Vietnam that produces nickel – cobalt – manganese (NCM) precursor products for Asia’s growing lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery industry and providing a product with “green” credentials from mine to customer.

Blackstone believes its efforts to create a business that value-adds to the products they mine – delivering this in an environmentally friendly way by using renewable hydroelectricity –will put Vietnam at the leading edge of the green revolution.

The upstream (mining) project is centred on the Ban Phuc Nickel Mine in Son La Province. Current activities include resource drilling and preparation of samples for testing. Future developments will depend on the results of the testing and the grant of the necessary permits by the Government of Vietnam.

The downstream (refinery) project will involve the deep processing of nickel ore from the upstream (mining) project. The site selected for the refinery project is in the Gia Phu commune of the Phu Yen district also in Son La province.

According to Mr. Scott Williamson, MD of Blackstone Minerals, the project is currently actively implementing the pilot phase to bring the plant into operation by 2025. Particularly, the project focuses on building ‘green mines’, reducing the amount of CO2 that goes into the atmosphere to achieve the goal of zero CO2 emissions in the future.

According to Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ngo Xuan Thanh, the Blackstone Minerals new technology in producing materials for battery is a new direction.

“The mainly diffused ore source in Ban Phuc Nickel Mine will be focused, effectively exploited, meeting the needs for the development of the electric vehicle industry and renewable energy, at the same time making an important contribution to the economic development of our country, and creating jobs for local people”, said Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ngo Xuan Thanh.

With surging demand for nickel underpinned by the electric vehicle revolution, promoting the country’s natural nickel source will make an important contribution to social-economic development of Viet Nam now and in the future.

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