Indonesia’s urgent nickel ore reserve challenge

Jakarta – The Indonesian Mining Association (IMA) projects that saprolite nickel ore resources in Indonesia will not last long, given the increasing number of nickel smelters.

The Indonesian Mining Outlook Year 2023-2024 report states that assuming all smelter projects are completed by 2026, saprolite nickel ore reserves are expected to last until 2029.

“The total number of RKEF smelter projects that draw on saprolite supply in Indonesia reaches 97 units,” IMA wrote in the report, underlining the urgency of reviewing Indonesia’s nickel mining strategy to face this challenge.

Data from the Geological Agency of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources (ESDM) for 2022 states that Indonesia’s saprolite nickel ore reserves reach 2.38 billion tons. However, as presented by IMA, the surge in demand for saprolite ore for rotary kiln electric furnace (RKEF)-based smelters suggests that the availability of this resource may not last long.

Meanwhile, according to data from the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs and Investment, IMA revealed that the total number of pyrometallurgical smelters in Indonesia currently stands at 44, 25 of which are under construction, and 28 of which are in the feasibility study stage.

Limonite nickel ore as raw material for batteries 

The focus is also on limonite nickel ore reserves used to produce EV batteries. Although limonite ore reserves appear to be more durable, with projections that could last until 2048, a high-pressure acid leach (HPAL) -based smelter must also be considered.

The limonite ore will be used for four products processed by the HPAL smelter towards the battery cathode. The four products are mixed sulphide precipitate (MSP), which has an annual requirement of 2.28 million tons; mixed hydroxide precipitate (MHP), which has an annual requirement of 27.8 million tons; nickel metal, which has an annual requirement of 61.6 million tons, and nickel sulfate-cobalt sulfate (CoSO4x), which has an annual requirement of 19.5 million tons.

Data from the Geological Agency of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources states that the availability of limonite ore in Indonesia in 2022 will reach 2.64 billion tons. However, this availability projection must also be adjusted to the development of HPAL smelters, which may affect the availability of nickel resources in the future.

In this context, previous statements from the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources stating that saprolite nickel reserves can still last for the next 13 years, while limonite nickel reserves are sufficient for the next 33 years, add to the complexity of formulating a sustainable nickel mining policy. (Hartatik)

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