NiWest nickel-cobalt project (NiWest) is an advanced stage nickel-cobalt resource located in Western Australia.

Australian Securities Exchange (ASX)-listed nickel and critical minerals development company Alliance Nickel (previously GME Resources) is the owner of the project.

A scoping study, released in December 2013, confirmed the technical and potential economic viability of the project.

This was followed by the completion of a Prefeasibility Study (PFS) in 2018. The PFS was again updated in 2022.

NiWest’s updated PFS indicates an average annual production of 19.2kt nickel and 1.4kt cobalt over the first 15 years. The project’s estimated life of mine is 27 years.

A Definitive Feasibility Study (DFS) for NiWest is slated for completion in mid-2024.

The construction of the project is scheduled to commence in 2024.

NiWest Project Location

The NiWest nickel-cobalt project is located approximately 55km east of Leonora in the northeastern Goldfields region of Western Australia.

The project is located adjacent to Glencore’s Murrin Murrin Nickel-Cobalt Operation, in the West Australian Nickel belt.

The processing facility for NiWest is proposed to be situated within 30km of Murrin Murrin operation.

NiWest comprises seven deposits- Mt Kilkenny, Eucalyptus, Hepi, Wanbanna, Murrin North, Waite Kauri and Mertondale.

These deposits are situated across a 50km radius. The site also has access to existing primary mining infrastructure including a network of roads, a rail line and a gas pipeline.

The PFS of the project was devised by assessing the mining and processing the economic component of the Measured and Indicated Resources within the Eucalyptus, Hepi and Mt Kilkenny deposits.

Key Background Details

Alliance Nickel held a 38% interest in the NiWest Project until 2003. The company acquired the remaining 62% stake from Western Metals Copper Limited (WMCL) in 2004.

Alliance Nickel was granted 14 mining leases over the Eucalyptus, Murrin North, Hepi, Macey Hill and Mt Kilkenny nickel laterite projects by the Department of Industry and Resources in March 2005.

In January 2013, Alliance was granted patent applications for acid regeneration and ore pelletisation to be utilised in the proposed heap leach flow sheet for its NiWest project.

The company changed its name from GME Resources to Alliance Nickel in January 2023.

Alliance received conditional finance support from Export Finance Australia (EFA) for the NiWest project in September 2023.

Geology and Mineralisation

NiWest’s deposits lie within the Murrin Domain of the Kurnalpi Terrane. These deposits and Glencore’s Murrin Murrin Ni-Co operations (MMO) are all located within the Murrin Domain.

The deposits are found within ultramafic rock units of the Murrin Murrin Formation or its unassigned rock unit equivalence.

Nickel-Cobalt mineralisation occurring within the Murrin Domain has formed as supergene, blanket-style deposits via in-situ, lateritic weathering of serpentinised, olivine-rich peridotites.

With a thickness ranging from 5m to 30m, the mineralisation is several kilometres long and around 750m wide.

NiWest Reserves

In November 2023, NiWest Mineral Resource Estimate (MRE) was updated to 93.4Mt at 1.04% Ni and 0.07% Co for 971kt of contained nickel and 65kt of contained cobalt.

The figure includes 17.77Mt in measured category and 58.04Mt and 17.59Mt of resources in indicated and inferred categories, respectively.

The maiden reserve estimate of the project announced in 2018 remained unchanged in 2022. NiWest is expected to contain probable reserves of 64.9Mt at 0.91% Ni and 0.06% Co (for 592kt contained nickel and 38kt contained cobalt).

Mining at NiWest Nickel-Cobalt Project

NiWest project will be mined using open pit methods. It is planned to be undertaken via conventional truck and shovel operations involving free digging with only ferruginous capping requiring drilling and blasting.

In the initial six years, annual material movement is expected to be approximately 15 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa). The figure will reduce to around 8 Mtpa for the remainder of mining operations.

Mt Kilkenny deposit is planned to be mined over the first six years, followed by Eucalyptus and Hepi deposits from the seventh year.

Ore will be trucked to the Mt Kilkenny plant site from Eucalyptus and Hepi deposits, located approximately 40km and 22km, respectively, from the plant.

Ore Processing

Processing of the NiWest ores heap will involve heap leaching followed by neutralisation, impurity removal and Direct Solvent Extraction (DSX) and crystallisation to obtain nickel and cobalt sulphate products.

The ore will undergo two-stage crushing to minus 50mm followed by agglomeration with sulphuric acid. The agglomerated ore will be then conveyed to the pad for stacking.

The on/off heap leach pad arrangement will have multiple modules and the stacked ore will be leached in a three-stage counter-current leach system. Heap leach residue will be removed via an excavator feeding a mobile conveying system and transported to the Mt Kilkenny in-pit Residue Storage Facility (RSF).

Pregnant Leach Solution (PLS) from heap leaching will be then neutralised using calcrete. This will remove residual acid and precipitate 99.9% of the Fe and Al before DSX.

The DSX plant will comprise two separate SX circuits.

In the primary SX circuit, the neutralised PLS is contacted with an organic to extract Ni and Co into the organic. The organic is then washed and treated with an acidic solution to separate Ni and Co from the organic into the purified acidic solution.

The secondary SX circuit will separate the Co from the strip solution leaving a pure Ni sulphate strip solution that feeds the Ni crystalliser circuit. It also delivers a separate purified Co solution.

The highly concentrated nickel sulphate electrolytic solution will be then cooled to produce high-purity nickel sulphate hexahydrate crystals.

These crystals will be lightly washed, dried and packaged into 1-tonne bulk-bags.

Cobalt will be recovered as pure solid cobalt sulphide through precipitating the cobalt strip solution. It will be further refined through pressure leaching to produce cobalt sulphate heptahydrate.

These crystals will be similarly packed in 1 tonne bulk-bags.

Ore throughput is expected to be 2.4Mtpa, producing 456kt nickel (in nickel sulphate) and 31.4kt cobalt (in cobalt sulphate) over 27 years.

Key Infrastructure

The acid plant will generate approximately 21MW power to meet required site power and steam requirements.

Water required for the project operations will be provided by a combination of dewatering of the Mt Kilkenny deposit and a network of groundwater bores located approximately 15km west of the Mt Kilkenny deposit.

At nameplate capacity, the NiWest operation will need approximately 6GL of water per annum.

NiWest Offttake Agreements

In February 2023, Alliance signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding (MoU) with VinES Energy Solutions Joint Stock Company (VinES), a subsidiary of Vietnam’s Vingroup, regarding the future sale of quantities of battery-grade nickel and cobalt sulphate products from the NiWest project.

The company entered into a binding offtake agreement with Stellantis for the supply of 170,000 tonnes of nickel sulphate and 12,000 tonnes of cobalt sulphate over an initial five-year period from the project.

Stellantis also bought €9.2m in new equity in Alliance Nickel.

In February 2024, Alliance signed a non-binding term sheet with Samsung SDI for the future offtake of nickel and cobalt sulphate products from the Nickel-Cobalt Project.

Contractors Involved

The NiWest Project PFS involved several external consultants including Prudentia Process Consulting; Golder Associates; Mworx; Perth Mining Consultants; SGS Bateman; Nagrom Laboratories; SGS Lakefield; Fivemark; Graymatter Group; David White; L&MGS; and Sustainability.

SRK Consulting updated NiWest Mineral Resource Estimate (MRE), which was published in November 2023.

The DFS is being conducted under Alliance Nickel’s engineering partner Ausenco.

EXP, a specialist North American engineering company, was contracted to carry out engineering design and cost estimation for the project’s acid plant.

Kirk Mining Consultants was contracted to carry out mining consultancy services, including mine planning, mine scheduling and Ore Reserve estimation.

Knight Piésold was engaged to carry out specialised design work for the heap leach area, residue storage facilities and site-wide water management structures for the project.

SRK will carry out the resource modelling for the project, while Rockwater will conduct hydrology studies.