The work of Nils Voermann, Global Managing Director Technologies at Hatch, is reflected in the design of metallurgical plants around the world. He has been involved in many of the landmark ferro-nickel projects over the last decades, including SNNC’s greenfield ferronickel plant in Korea in 2008, and most recently Koniambo. We had the chance to speak to him about key success factors in delivering large greenfield projects and the most promising technologies entering the market.
IMM Events: Hatch is a major project partner in the Koniambo nickel project. Can you give us an update on the current status of the project?
Nils Voermann: Line One of Koniambo’s two line pryometallurgical plant has been successfully commissioned and is now being ramped up to full production capacity. In parallel, construction activities are being finalised in preparation for commissioning and ramp up of Line Two.
IMM Events: What are the main challenges in delivering such a large greenfield project in a remote location? How did you address these issues?
Nils Voermann: A large greenfield project in a remote location is necessarily a multi-year endeavour. Making a success of such a project requires the long term commitment of the owner, the technology provider(s) and the EPCM contractor. Staff continuity is very important to transfer knowledge across all project phases, from the initial studies through implementation to start-up and ramp-up to the full production rate.
An experienced team is required to develop a customised execution plan tailored to the specific project site requirements, and must have the flexibility to optimise the plan when new challenges arise over time. The difficulty of mobilising a large skilled construction team to a remote site can be overcome by the prefabrication of large plant modules off site, typically in China. The lack of industrial infrastructure is best addressed by the early construction of a port facility near the plant site, thus allowing prefabricated modules to be unloaded and transported a short distance to the plant site.
Project delivery for Hatch ends not with completion of construction – our objective is the rapid ramp-up of our plants to their design production rate and beyond. Again, this challenge is addressed through people: an integrated team comprising both engineering and operating experience, with all project participants working together to achieve a shared objective.
IMM Events: What makes new nickel plants unique from other exploration projects?
Nils Voermann: The diverse nature of nickel orebodies around the globe has resulted in a multitude of processing routes being commercialised. Each plant has its unique features to deal with the specific ore being processed. Each of these different processing routes is relatively complex. Significant experience is required to select the appropriate processing route, and then design, construct, commission, ramp-up, operate and optimise the business for each specific application.
IMM Events: Advancement in technologies has led to better operational efficiency in recent years. In the near future, what technologies do you consider the most promising for the industry?
Nils Voermann: Development of higher capacity for furnaces, more productive rotary kilns, fluidised calcining and larger autoclaves will enable larger more efficient and hence more cost effective facilities for the processing of lateritic ore bodies. These economies of scale allow laterite projects/operations to compete more readily with the traditional sulphide processing routes. Further developments in technologies such as heap leaching, nickel electrowinning and solvent extraction will further optimise the hydrometallurgical processing facilities. Additional economies of scale are available by adding technology to increase the capacity of recently constructed nickel processing facilities. There is huge opportunity at these sites for cost effective incremental capacity increases. This spreads the existing capital and operating costs over more tonnes of nickel production, and thereby reduces unit production cost.
IMM Events: Can you give us some examples of projects where these technologies have been successfully implemented?
Nils Voermann: The fast ramp up and stabilisation at full production rate achieved for the past year at Ravensthorpe has proven the viability of well designed High Pressure Acid Leach (HPAL) plants for hydrometallurgical processing laterite nickel ores. SNNC in Korea uses Hatch furnace technology in their pryometallurgical plant to achieve world-leading economy of scale and productivity. They operate the world’s highest power ferro-nickel furnace.
IMM Events: You will be participating in the 5th New Caledonia Nickel conference at a time when the industry is facing some critical challenges and high market volatility. What insights are you hoping to gain from the event?
The current nickel market motivates our clients to reduce unit production costs. Such productivity gains can be achieved by reducing input costs and/or incrementally increasing the production rate of existing assets. Hatch is committed to helping our clients achieve unprecedented and sustained business results through innovative technology and operating improvements. The 5th New Caledonia Nickel conference provides an excellent opportunity for Hatch to engage with all aspects of the nickel industry and exchange value adding ideas.