Laterite Ores - Nickel and Cobalt Resources for the Future

Organization: The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
Pages: 7
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1996
Although laterite ores already provide a significant proportion of the world's nickel and cobalt production it is anticipated that they will surpass sulphide ores as a source of nickel in the next century. The most recent period of greenfield nickel project construction was during the 1970s when it was notable that all of the eight new plants were based on treating laterite ores. This was because of the relatively large selection of available high grade laterite ore deposits amenable to cheap open cast mining and a paucity of high grade sulphide ore prospect alternatives. Of the three processing options for treating laterite ores: 1. smelting for the lower horizon saprolite ore, 2. ammonia; and 3. acid leach for the upper horizon limonite ore, smelting currently accounts for about 80 per cent of nickel production. In the future, as saprolite ore grades decline because of relatively high exploitation rates, the incentive to process the large untapped reserves of limonite ore will increase. The high cobalt content of limonite ore also makes it ideally suited to processing by a hydrometallurgical rather than smelting route. With only two exceptions, all saprolite smelting operations have a Class 2 nickel end product (largely ferronickel) and do not produce a cobalt by-product. As a result of technological advances, the modified ammonia leach process for limonite and transition ore as undertaken at Yabulu, now allows the production of pure nickel metal as a Class 1 product, along with significant tonnages of cobalt by-product. The mixed Ni-Co sulphide intermediate product of the pressure acid leach processing of limonite ore at Mon is converted to Class 1 nickel and cobalt metal at Fort Saskatchewan, Canada.
Full Article Download:
(176 kb)