DIRECT Nickel Limited (DNi) has started a feasibility study for the first commercial-scale DNI Process nickel processing plant. The study is taking place at PT Antam’s Buli operation in Halmahera led by a joint Antam/DNi team and DNi expects it to be completed in early 2015.

The DNi process has been developed over seven years and has been demonstrated over the last year at a test site in the CSIRO’s Australian Minerals Research Centre in Perth, Western Australia, at a scale of 1 tonne of ore per day. The test operation was completed successfully in December 2013 with most ore for the demonstration sourced from Buli.

The demonstration has shown the process has very high recoveries of nickel, and other valuable by-products such as cobalt, iron ore and magnesium oxide. In addition to a significantly lower CAPEX profile, the DNi Process offers processing costs estimated to be as competitive as US$2 to 3 per pound of nickel (before by-product credits) for markets such as Indonesia.

As nickel concentrate is not subject to Indonesia’s export bans on unprocessed ore, DNi expects a high level of demand to fill the gap created by the ban, particularly in China. Annual nickel ore exports from Indonesia previously represented up to 20% of global supply. Current stockpiles are forecast to be depleted during 2014 and DNi is uniquely positioned to supply nickel concentrate into markets impacted by the restrictions.

DNi positioned itself to capture this opportunity by initiating discussions with Antam as early as 2009 when the ban was announced. Since then, DNi has built on its presence in Jakarta through formation of a local subsidiary PT DNi with Indonesian partners, establishment of a Jakarta office and signing cooperation agreements with Antam in 2012 and 2013.

DNi CEO Russell Debney says the export ban has made Indonesia more attractive as an investment destination for the company. “It is clear that the government intends to stimulate the growth of processing within the country. Companies such as Direct Nickel that are able to produce nickel concentrate efficiently and competitively, are set for a material re-rating as a result of this development. We could not have asked for a better time to start planning our first commercial plant in Indonesia.”

DNi and Antam intend developing a plant adjacent to Antam’s new ferronickel smelter which is under construction. Antam is Indonesia’s largest nickel miner and already operates ferronickel processing facilities in Sulawesi. The Buli plant will be the first commercial processing plant to utilize the processing technology and is likely to annually produce 10-20,000 tonnes of nickel-in-concentrate.

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