Australian plant aims to become major nickel producer

Paul Boughton
Nickel is a corrosion-resistant metal used in many industrial and consumer products, including stainless steel.

The Cosmic Boy nickel concentrate plant in Western Australia will be a vital asset for Western Areas, which is aiming to become a major nickel producer.

Vacon AC drives control a wide variety of pumps at the concentrator plant, for process flow and pressure control.

Forrestania Nickel Project, 600 km east of Perth in Western Australia, contains substantial exploration potential with more than 25 nickel occurrences identified already. Even the most experienced analysts and geologists admit that they have not seen anything to compare with these high quality and unusual nickel deposits.

Forrestania Nickel Project is owned 100 per cent by Western Areas, an Australian-based nickel sulphide explorer and producer with advanced projects also in Canada and Finland.

The company plans to develop five mines at the Forrestania site by 2011, for a targeted production of some 35,000 tonnes of nickel a year.

To establish Forrestania as a major nickel province producing ore from a number of sources, it was essential to build a central concentrate plant at Cosmic Boy, centrally located in the Forrestania site.

The 250,000 tonne per annum plant was offi cially opened by the Western Australian Minister for Mines and Petroleum on 24 March 2009, and since then the plant has been upgraded to 550,000 tonne per annum. The plant takes nickel ore production from Flying Fox and Spotted Quoll, the first mines in operation at Forrestania.

The central concentrator plant provides several benefits. It gives Forrestania the possibility to manage the concentrate  process, to improve metallurgical recoveries and to blend high and low grade ores from a number of deposits. It also reduces ore transports and increases profi tability.
Nickel sulphide flotation process plant Western Areas appointed a Perth based engineering services team for the engineering, design, procurement, construction and commissioning of the Cosmic Boy nickel concentrate.

The plant was designed for a process throughput of 250,000tpa, at a milling nominal treatment rate of 30tph, with provision for an expansion in processing capacity to a throughput of 550,000 tpa.

Processing includes primary crushing, conveying, coarse ore storage and milling incorporating fl ash fl otation to produce a nickel concentrate. Concentrate is dewatered via thickening and fi ltration to produce a concentrate suitable for dispatch via trucking and shipping. Process plant tails are thickened prior to being pumped to the tailings storage facility.

The stage 2 upgrade included the crushing circuit upgrade, the conversion of the Unusual nickel deposits at SAG mill to a ball mill and installation of additional flotation and thickener capacity.

Vacon AC drives to improve process control The engineering services team focuses on providing integrated, efficient and practical designs to achieve high quality, cost effective solutions, whilst maintaining a high level of safety and operational performance to successfully deliver projects.

To achieve these goals, the engineering services team needed AC drives for their project.

Vacon has supplied to this project a total of 44 Vacon NXS range of variable speed AC drives in the power range from 0.25 kW to 160 kW. The Vacon variable speed AC drives control various pumps at the Cosmic Boy concentrator plant.

Pump control with the help of a variable speed AC drive brings considerable energy savings. It also improves process control, which is essential in the concentrating process to ensure consistent quality for the process ore.

“Vacon AC variable speed drives were selected to provide reliability with local service support for the remote location of the mine site,” says Geoff Foster, Corporate Segment Director, Mining Minerals & Cement, Vacon.

Cosmic Boy nickel concentrator is an essential part of Forrestania Nickel Project using conventional flotation technology to process ore into nickel concentrate with an average grade of 14 per cent nickel.

The stage 2 upgrade at the Cosmic Boy nickel concentrate is expected to double the capacity of the plant by June 2010. It will process the increased production from the Flying Fox and Spotted Quollmines.

The primary discovery at Forrestania, Flying Fox, is one of the highest grade nickel deposits in the world and has now been in production for two years. Western Areas is targeting combined annual production from the Flying
Fox and Spotted Quoll mines of 25,000t nickel by 2011.

Nickel, in its pure form, is a silvery-white lustrous metal with a slight golden tinge. It is a corrosion-resistant metal used in many industrial and consumer products.

According to some estimates, demand for nickel will continue to exceed supply over the coming years.

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