Thakadu Battery Materials and platinum producer Lonmin have concluded a long-term off-take arrangement for Lonmin's crude nickel sulphate.

Thakadu Battery Materials and major platinum producer Lonmin have agreed to proceed to bankable feasibility and have concluded a long-term off-take arrangement for the platinum group metals producer to supply its crude nickel sulphate stream to Thakadu.

Thakadu, a new generation beneficiation and trading company, will beneficiate the crude stream and produce high-purity battery-grade nickel sulphate at its $14 m purification plant to be constructed at Lonmin’s base metals refinery (BMR).

High-purity nickel sulphate is a key component used in the manufacturing of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. What is more, the global market for this product is expected to generate revenue of around $46 billion by 2022. The bulk of lithium-ion battery manufacturing capacity is located in Japan, Korea and China, which account for 85% of global production capacity.

Thakadu’s CEO, Ruli Diseko said: “We are excited about the potential created by this deal. In addition to funding and building the plant, Thakadu will leverage Lonmin’s existing BMR infrastructure and is expected to produce approximately 25,000 tonnes of high-purity nickel sulphate per year.

“This will provide upstream raw material for the rapidly growing global lithium-ion battery market. The product’s end uses include stationary energy storage, consumer electronics and electric vehicles.”

Lonmin’s CFO, Barrie van der Merwe, emphasised: “This deal will maximise Lonmin’s realised value from nickel, as high-purity nickel sulphate is sold at a premium to the London Metal Exchange’s nickel price. We see this as one of Lonmin’s flagship black industrialist projects.”

“Thakadu has been working on this project for some time now and we have already come a long way,” Diseko elaborated. “Back in 2015, Thakadu self-funded the metallurgical test work and we proved the project’s technical feasibility at mineral research organisation Mintek in 2016. As part of the test work, Thakadu developed a proprietary flow sheet and produced a high-purity lithium-ion battery-grade sample.”

“This was a first for South Africa. Next, we conducted a comprehensive market study and now Thakadu’s samples are undergoing pre-qualification tests by end-users in the priority markets of Japan, Korea and China.”

“We have also raised funding for and started the bankable feasibility study for the purification plant, planned for completion in the second quarter of 2017,” said Diseko.

Commercial production from the plant is planned for the first half of 2018. The plant will create 60 permanent jobs, in addition to employment opportunities created during construction.  According ot Thakadu it will be the first commercial scale operation in South Africa producing battery grade nickel sulphate.