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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the critical minerals ?

Critical minerals are those that are essential to the economy and national security but have supply chains vulnerable to disruption. They are used in various high-tech applications, renewable energy technologies, defense, and other essential sectors like Healthcare. Some of the critical minerals include:

  1. Nickel - Used in stainless steel, batteries, aerospace, and alloys.

  2. Cobalt - Essential for batteries, particularly in electric vehicles and electronics.

  3. Lithium - Crucial for rechargeable batteries in laptops, mobile phones, and electric vehicles.

  4. Rare Earth Elements (REEs) - Includes 17 elements used in electronics, magnets, and renewable energy technologies.

  5. Copper - Vital for electrical wiring, plumbing, and renewable energy systems.

  6. Graphite - Used in batteries, lubricants, and steelmaking.

  7. Platinum Group Metals (PGMs) - Includes platinum, palladium, and rhodium, used in catalytic converters, electronics, and fuel cells.

  8. Manganese - Used in steel production and batteries.

  9. Tin - Important for solder in electronics and other industrial applications.

  10. Aluminum - Widely used in transportation, packaging, and construction.

  11. Zinc - Used for galvanizing steel, making brass, and in batteries.

  12. Vanadium - Used in steel alloys and emerging battery technologies.

  13. Tungsten - Used in metalworking, mining, and petroleum industries.

  14. Chromium - Important for stainless steel and various alloys.

  15. Scandium - Used in defense aerospace and semiconductor

These minerals are critical due to their essential role in modern technologies, particularly now that we are heading to artificial intelligence and the challenges associated with their supply chains.

Why are there disruptions in the supply chain?

Disruptions in the supply chain of critical minerals can occur due to several factors:

1. Geopolitical Issues

2. Concentration of Supply​

3. Environmental and Regulatory Challenges​

4. Supply Chain Complexity

5. Economic Factors

6. Technological Challenges

7. Environmental and Social Responsibility

8. Global Pandemics

Countries that are major producers of critical minerals often face political instability, which can severely impact mining operations and export regulations. Political instability can manifest in various forms, including government corruption, civil unrest, armed conflicts, and frequent changes in political leadership. These conditions create an unpredictable environment that can disrupt mining activities, leading to decreased production or complete shutdowns of mining sites.
For example, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which produces over 60% of the world’s cobalt, has been plagued by political turmoil and armed conflicts for decades. This instability makes mining operations risky and can lead to sudden interruptions in cobalt supply. Additionally, frequent changes in government policies or leadership can result in inconsistent regulatory frameworks, making it difficult for mining companies to plan long-term investments and operations.

Political instability can also result in the nationalization of mining resources, where governments take control of mining operations previously managed by private or foreign companies. This can lead to a halt in operations, renegotiation of terms, or expulsion of existing operators, all of which disrupt the steady supply of critical minerals.

 

Trade wars, tariffs, and export bans are significant factors that can limit the availability of critical minerals. Countries may impose trade restrictions for various reasons, including protecting domestic industries, retaliating against other nations' trade policies, or exerting geopolitical influence.

China, which controls a substantial portion of the global supply of rare earth elements, has used export restrictions as a geopolitical tool. For instance, in 2010, China reduced its export quotas of rare earth elements, causing global prices to skyrocket and creating shortages for manufacturers dependent on these materials. This move was widely interpreted as an attempt to leverage its market dominance to exert political pressure, particularly in disputes with other countries over territorial and trade issues.

Such trade restrictions create uncertainty in the global supply chain, forcing companies to seek alternative sources or invest in recycling and substitution technologies. However, these solutions are not immediate and can be costly, leading to disruptions in production and increased costs for end products.

Tariffs can also play a disruptive role. For example, during the US-China trade war, tariffs imposed on imported minerals and metals created additional costs for manufacturers, disrupting the supply chain and leading to shifts in sourcing strategies. Companies had to navigate these tariffs, either absorbing the higher costs or passing them on to consumers, which ultimately affected the global market dynamics for critical minerals.

In summary, political instability and trade restrictions are significant challenges to the supply chain of critical minerals. The unpredictable nature of political events and the strategic use of trade policies by countries with significant mineral resources can lead to sudden and severe disruptions. These challenges necessitate the need for diversified sourcing, investment in alternative materials, and robust international cooperation to ensure a stable and sustainable supply of critical minerals essential for modern technologies and economies.

What is Laterite Ore?

Laterite ore is a type of soil and rock rich in iron and aluminum, formed in hot and wet tropical areas. It is primarily composed of nickel, cobalt, iron, aluminum, and other metal oxides, making it an essential source of these metals.

Formation and Composition

  • Formation: Laterite ore forms through the intense weathering of parent rock in tropical and subtropical climates, where high temperatures and heavy rainfall accelerate the chemical breakdown of rocks. This process, called laterization, leaches away soluble elements, leaving behind a concentration of insoluble oxides.

  • Composition: The composition of laterite ore can vary, but it typically includes:

    • Iron Oxides: Predominantly in the form of hematite and goethite.

    • Aluminum Oxides: In the form of gibbsite, boehmite, and diaspore.

    • Nickel and Cobalt: Often found in concentrations that make mining economically viable.

 

Types of Laterite Ore

Laterite ores are generally classified into two types based on their nickel content:

  1. Limonitic Laterite: Rich in iron and typically has lower nickel content. It is found closer to the surface.

  2. Saprolitic Laterite: Found deeper below the limonitic layer, it has higher nickel content and is richer in magnesium silicates.

 

Uses of Laterite Ore

Laterite ore is crucial for several industries due to its metal content:

  • Nickel Production: A significant source of nickel, used in stainless steel, batteries, and various alloys.

  • Cobalt Production: Essential for batteries, particularly in electric vehicles and electronics.

  • Iron and Aluminum: Extracted for use in construction, manufacturing, and other industrial applications.

 

Mining and Processing

  • Mining: Laterite ore is typically mined through open-pit methods due to its near-surface location. The extraction process involves removing the overburden and extracting the ore beneath.

  • Processing: The processing methods depend on the ore type:

    • Limonitic Ore: Often processed using hydrometallurgical methods such as High-Pressure Acid Leaching (HPAL), where sulfur acid solutions are used to extract metals or Direct Nickel (DNi), where nitric acid acid solutions are used to extract metals.

    • Saprolitic Ore: Typically processed using pyrometallurgical methods like ferronickel smelting or the Caron process.

Is investing in laterite nickel profitable?

Nickel is found in two primary types of deposits: nickel laterites and magmatic sulfide deposits. Despite nickel laterites comprising 70% of the world's nickel reserves, only a fraction of these deposits have transitioned into producing mines. Over the last 60 years, magmatic sulfide deposits have dominated, contributing 60% of the world's nickel. However, in the past decade, production from these deposits has plateaued, just as global nickel consumption has been surging at an annual rate of 4%. This rising demand signals an urgent need to explore and develop new sources of nickel.

Nickel laterites, formed through the prolonged chemical and mechanical weathering of tropical soils, are rich in aluminum, magnesium, iron, and nickel. These deposits, with average nickel grades of 1.3% and cobalt grades of 0.04%, are especially promising, with middle and high-grade deposits containing over 1.5% and 1.8% nickel, respectively. While their abundance is clear, the challenge lies in their complex extraction processes and environmental considerations.

Yet, the potential for profitability in nickel laterite mining is immense, driven by the soaring demand for nickel in stainless steel and battery production, particularly for electric vehicles. Cutting-edge extraction technologies, such as High-Pressure Acid Leaching (HPAL), are transforming the economic landscape of these deposits. Moreover, the strategic imperative to diversify nickel sources away from the declining magmatic sulfide deposits positions nickel laterites as a cornerstone of future resource strategies.

One technology that stands at the forefront is Direct Nickel (DNi). This method not only maximizes nickel extraction but also significantly reduces waste. The by-products from DNi processing can be marketed, and the remaining 20% of the soil can be used to rehabilitate mine sites, transforming the land within weeks. Investing in nickel laterites with advanced technologies like DNi is not just a profitable venture—it’s a commitment to sustainable and responsible mining practices that promise long-term benefits for the environment and the global economy.

How long is the duration to construct a Direct Nickel technology process plant for a daily 5000-tonne feedstock ?

Constructing a Direct Nickel (DNi) technology process plant for a daily feedstock of 5,000 tonnes will generally be faster and require fewer resources than a larger plant designed for 30,000 tonnes per day. Here is an approximate timeline for the process:

Feasibility Study and Planning (4-8 months)

  • Initial Feasibility Study: Assess the viability of the project, including technical, economic, and environmental factors.

  • Detailed Engineering Design: Develop detailed plans and specifications for the plant.

Permitting and Approvals (6-12 months)

  • Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA): Conduct and submit for approval.

  • Regulatory Approvals: Obtain necessary permits and approvals from local and national authorities.

Financing and Investment (4-8 months)

  • Funding Secured: Secure financing from investors, banks, or other sources.

  • Final Investment Decision: Make the final decision to proceed with construction based on funding and feasibility.

Construction and Commissioning (18-24 months)

  • Site Preparation (2-4 months): Clear and prepare the site for construction.

  • Construction (12-18 months): Build the infrastructure, including buildings, processing units, and support facilities.

  • Equipment Installation (4-6 months): Install and calibrate the processing equipment.

Testing and Ramp-Up (4-6 months)

  • Commissioning: Test and fine-tune the equipment to ensure everything operates correctly.

  • Ramp-Up: Gradually increase production to full capacity.

Total Estimated Time: 2.5 to 3 years

This timeline can vary depending on factors such as project complexity, permitting processes, funding availability, and potential construction delays. Efficient project management and stakeholder engagement are crucial to adhering to this schedule and successfully bringing a Direct Nickel process plant for a daily 5,000-tonne feedstock to operational status.

For a daily 30000-tonne feedstock ?

The construction of a Direct Nickel (DNi) technology process plant for a daily feedstock of 30,000 tonnes involves several stages, each with its own timeline. Here is an approximate timeline for the process:

Feasibility Study and Planning (6-12 months)

  • Initial Feasibility Study: Assess the viability of the project, including technical, economic, and environmental factors.

  • Detailed Engineering Design: Develop detailed plans and specifications for the plant.

Permitting and Approvals (12-18 months)

  • Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA): Conduct and submit for approval.

  • Regulatory Approvals: Obtain necessary permits and approvals from local and national authorities.

Financing and Investment (6-12 months)

  • Funding Secured: Secure financing from investors, banks, or other sources.

  • Final Investment Decision: Make the final decision to proceed with construction based on funding and feasibility.

Construction and Commissioning (24-36 months)

  • Site Preparation (3-6 months): Clear and prepare the site for construction.

  • Construction (18-24 months): Build the infrastructure, including buildings, processing units, and support facilities.

  • Equipment Installation (6-12 months): Install and calibrate the processing equipment.

Testing and Ramp-Up (6-12 months)

  • Commissioning: Test and fine-tune the equipment to ensure everything operates correctly.

  • Ramp-Up: Gradually increase production to full capacity.

Total Estimated Time: 4 to 6 years

This timeline can vary depending on various factors such as the complexity of the project, the efficiency of the permitting process, the availability of funding, and potential construction delays. Close project management and stakeholder engagement are critical to adhering to this schedule and successfully bringing a Direct Nickel process plant to operational status.

 

Is there nickel sulfide in South Palawan? 

The nickel deposits in South Palawan are primarily lateritic, with no significant presence of nickel sulfide deposits reported in the main mining areas. Recent findings, however, have identified some sulfide deposits close to volcanic terrain. These areas are typically characterized by the presence of magmatic and ultramafic rocks, which can host nickel sulfide minerals. Nonetheless, these sulfide deposits are not widespread and have not been the primary focus of mining activities in South Palawan.

Further geological surveys and exploration activities are essential to provide more detailed information about the mineral composition of South Palawan. Such activities include detailed mapping, drilling, sampling, and geophysical surveys, which help identify and quantify the extent of mineral deposits. These efforts can uncover new areas with potential nickel sulfide deposits or further confirm the dominance of lateritic deposits in the region.

Current data indicates that laterite deposits are the primary source of nickel in South Palawan. These deposits are economically significant due to their high nickel and cobalt content, which are essential for various industrial applications, including stainless steel production and battery manufacturing. As global demand for these metals continues to rise, the importance of efficiently exploiting South Palawan's laterite resources becomes even more critical.

In summary, while there are some nickel sulfide deposits near volcanic terrains in South Palawan, the region's nickel resources are predominantly in the form of laterite deposits. Continued exploration and geological assessments will be vital to fully understanding and utilizing the mineral wealth of South Palawan.

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