Here’s a new name in the mining and treatment of laterite nickel oresJAGUAR NICKEL. The company formerly known as Chesbar Resources has chosen the name to reflect its activity in Guatemala, where ancient civilizations revered the elusive, spotted cat. Not so elusive are the 170 million tonnes (averaging 1.48% Ni) of measured, indicated and inferred laterite resources at the Sechol project. It lies to the west of Inco’s 70%-owned Eximbal project.
Both Jaguar and Inco know that the key to recovering nickel from laterite ore is a cost-effective mineral processing technique. Inco has its proprietary Goro process based on pressure acid leaching (PAL) and solvent extraction process (outlined in the April/May 2002 issue of CMJ). Now Jaguar is having success with its own proprietary method, a chloride-based atmospheric leach (AAL) process.
The AAL process offers several advantages over previous treatment methods, according to Jaguar. It can treat both the limonite and saprolite portions of the ore together or separately. Liquid/solid separation is done with a belt filter rather than a large countercurrent decantation circuit. Chloride losses are minimal because the lixiviant is recycled, at which point the water balance is controllable. Acid and reagent consumption is greatly reduced because the level of iron and magnesium leaching can be controlled. All in all, the AAL process is cheaper to build and operate and more environmentally benign than pressure leaching or smelting.
Hatch Engineering recently completed a scoping study on the AAL process, and Jaguar is encouraged by the results. The study parameters were to treat ore sufficient to produce 20,000 tonnes of nickel and 800 tonnes of cobalt per year as a mixed Ni-Co hydroxide intermediate product. Costs were based entirely on nickel credits; no by-product credits were taken. The study estimated that a capital investment of US$250 million (including US$60 million for contingencies) would be necessary to get such a plant going. Cash operating costs would be US$1.04/lb.
Jaguar plans to use the AAL technology at the Sechol project. Atmospheric chloride treatment will be followed by solution purification, production of an intermediate Ni-Co hydroxide, and finally acid and magnesia recovery by standard spray roasting technology. The plant would be modular and readily expandable. The company expects to have a process flowsheet developed later this summer and a bankable feasibility study ready by the end of 2004.
If all goes according to plan and the money can be found, Jaguar will join the ranks of low-cost nickel producers in the first quarter of 2006. We wish them success, as we do all well-considered mining development plans.