THE Ramu Nickel-Cobalt Project remains on track to achieve annual output of more than 32,000 tonnes of nickel and 3300 tonnes of cobalt during 2107. This follows a record month in May when 3068 tonnes of nickel and 292 tonnes of cobalt were produced.

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The Ramu project processing facilities at Basamuk on Papua New Guinea’s north coast.

In the five months to May 31, Ramu produced almost 14,000 tonnes of nickel and more than 1300 tonnes of cobalt, compared with total production of 22,268 tonnes of nickel and 1600 tonnes of cobalt in the 12 months to December 2016 as the process plant and mine ramped up to full production rates.

The project, which is 75km west of Madang, is owned and operated by a joint venture of which Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) is majority owner and operator and Highlands Pacific owns 8.6%. This will increase to 11.3% at no cost to Highlands after repayment of its share of the project debt. Highlands also has an option to acquire an additional 9.25% interest at fair market value, which could increase the interest to 20.55%.

Highlands says the steady increase in output has been achieved through improvements in mine production, including use of hydro-sluicing, and refinements to the process plant operations, which are leading to higher throughput rates.

The strong production results were achieved despite the planned maintenance shutdown of two of the plant’s three autoclaves for 12 days each in the March quarter. The third autoclave is scheduled for a 12-day maintenance shutdown in July.

Increased production is being achieved as global cobalt prices reached record levels of $56,000/tonne in early June, driven by increased demand in battery manufacturing. Nickel prices remain subdued at approximately $9,000/tonne, but are forecast to increase in future years as demand recovers.

Ramu produces a mixed nickel-cobalt hydroxide precipitate product (MHP) which is preferred by some lithium ion battery producers for use in electric vehicles.

Meantime, Highlands and JV partner Anglo American received encouraging results from drilling at the Star Mountains project in West Sepik Province. The first two holes of the current exploration program confirmed mineralisation at the targets tested and provided improved understanding of the geology of the new Unfin and Fune prospects.

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