Jakarta – The global energy transition campaign to reduce carbon emission is expected to boost minerals demand, including nickel, as raw materials to develop electric vehicle (EV) and energy storage supply chain. However, global EV developers have great concern regarding the upstream supply chain, particularly battery-grade nickel processing.
PT Hydrotech Metal Indonesia (HMI), a subsidiary of PT Trinitan Metals and Minerals Tbk (TMM), with stock code PURE, offers a solution namely STAL Technology, or Step Temperature Acid Leach Technology, an innovative, highly efficient, and environmentally friendly Hydrometallurgy-based technology to recover metals and minerals found in lateritic ores.
Romy Ramadhani, Vice President of Hydrotech Metal Indonesia, said that Indonesia owns abundant reserves of lateritic ores, particularly low-grade nickel ore which can be processed to be battery-grade nickel.
“However, the class 1 nickel ore with nickel content below 1.7 percent is currently considered as overburden and many industry players cannot utilize the low-grade nickel ore yet,” he said to CoalAsia Magz, recently.
Currently, most of operating nickel processing facilities in Indonesia utilizes Rotary Kiln Electric Furnace (RKEF) technology which only consumes high-grade nickel ore to produce ferronickel, nickel matte and NPI as material for stainless steel industry.
Romy stated that 80 percent of lateritic ore, limonite, extracted from the ground is wasted since only 20 percent of lateritic ore, saprolite, is utilized for RKEF smelters that using pyrometallurgy technology. In 2020, Indonesia produced 710,000 tons of Ni and is forecasted to increase up to 1.3 million tons by 2023.
Widodo Sucipto, President Director of HMI, stated that Indonesia has approximately 3,6 billion tons of low-grade nickel ore reserves while high-grade nickel ore reserves is only 930 million tons. “The abundant deposit of limonite in Indonesia is our advantage as STAL developer,” he said.
By bringing STAL technology, HMI offers solution for both conservation of lateritic ore resources by utilizing low-grade nickel ore and produces battery-
grade nickel for EV and energy storage ecosystem as well.
“Now is the perfect momentum to utilize class 1 low grade nickel ore,” Romy said. HMI observes that battery-grade nickel supply deficit condition may occur starting from 2024 and will reach the peak in 2030 amounted to 400,000 tons.
Romy seeks to avoid the deficit condition as battery-grade nickel users, such as EV manufacturers, may most likely consider looking for alternatives for EV battery materials, such as lithium ferro phosphate.
Indonesia is expected to have three to five HPAL smelters to produce battery-grade nickel but the total output of these HPAL smelters is expected be less than 200,000 tons or far below total global demand.
STAL, an in-country technology innovation, according to Romy, offers solution to fill up the gap by developing STAL modular system capacity which best-suited for Indonesia’s mining concessions and allows operations on a small-scale and faster to ramp up.
HMI plans to build 10 lines of STAL smelter in Palu Special Economic Zone, Central Sulawesi Province and aims to develop modular STAL smelters in nickel-rich regions such as South Sulawesi and Southeast Sulawesi.
“We want to encourage nickel miners to develop STAL smelter at their mine mouth,” Romy said. While HPAL technology has processing capacity up to 35,000 tons per year, STAL technology requires only 1,800 tons processing capacity per year.
Given the fact that most of nickel miners in these regions are small-to-medium scale miners, Widodo proposes these IUP holders with close proximity in the same region to collaborate in developing STAL smelter. “We may build one STAL smelter for three or four IUP holders,” Widodo said.
Build as modular system, STAL Technology offers lower capital intensity and lower operating cost than HPAL. It makes STAL technology highly suitable for nickel mining characteristic in Indonesia and accessible for wide range of investors.
STAL Technology also provides higher nickel and other by-products recovery rate since it can absorb wide-range of lateritic ores ranging from limonite and saprolite, as verified by BPPT and ESDM. It means STAL Technology is among the 25th percentile of lowest cash cost rate nickel extraction technologies in the world.
In developing EV and energy storage ecosystem, global industry players are increasingly factoring the ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) credentials in all supply chain. Waste disposal and carbon emission are among others the most crucial environmental credential that need to be addressed by smelter developers.
Currently, there are three waste disposal methods for hydrometallurgy smelters namely conventional tailing dam, deep sea tailing and dry stack tailing. The hot-debated issue of waste disposal to some extent is dragging the progress of HPAL smelters in Indonesia.
Indonesia produced 22 million tons of slag in 2020. Slag and HPAL waste are significant concerns for stakeholders. Companies that pursue a high ESG performance are perceived as more attractive to investors, having a better performance and better financial indicators.
However, according to Romy, STAL technology offers net zero waste solution as the technology produces residues that can be reprocessed and utilized for other uses. “Instead of conducting waste management, STAL technology, in fact, can utilize the residues into by-products which has 40 percent ferrous content to be iron ore for stainless steel industry,” he said.
STAL’s main product is MHP (Mixed hydroxide precipitate) an intermediate product of nickel lateritic ore with 30-40 percent nickel content. STAL processing also produces residues that have ferrous and aluminium contents.
“In the end, there is nothing to waste because the tailing is reprocessed and fully-utilized,” Widodo said.
HMI is also developing Green Plus Program, an ESG certification for of all HMI’s nickel products. The program will provide end-users, in particular EV manufacturers, an ESG certificate for the source of nickel supply. “So, all MHI’s nickel output will be certified with Green Plus Program that ensuring all value chain activities comply with ESG policy,” Romy said.
Less carbon emission
Furthermore, STAL technology produces lower carbon emission compared to other nickel ore processing methods and potentially may be much lower if using renewable energy sources, such as hydropower or solar power plant.
Romy claimed that STAL technology emits only 17.3 kg CO2/kg Ni which is produced from combustion and electricity consumption. “We keep trying to reduce the emission,” he said.
In addition, Trinitan Group has a subsidiary PT Sky Energy Indonesia Tbk (JSKY), a solar panel producer, that may support the development of STAL smelters by using solar power plant, including HMI’s STAL smelter in Palu Special Economic Zone.
HMI promotes transparency on all STAL Technology processes as part of good corporate governance (GCG) to ensure all stakeholders regarding the ESG implementation.
Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) will be implemented on STAL Technology for the environmental critical process and manage the data in cloud system to ensure data is presented in transparent, real-time and valid manner. However, Romy emphasized that HMI will need supports from all respective stakeholders especially government, research and education institutions to fully implement CIM.
“The digital cloud manufacturing system can monitor all material inputs and all residue outputs in STAL Technology,” Romy said. (*)