With an orebody covering all three requisite minerals at its flagship Sconi project in North Queensland and a desire to value add downstream, Australian Mines is taking some serious steps to fully capitalise on demand for nickel-cobalt-manganese (NCM) batteries.

With this in mind, Australian Mines (ASX:AUZ) announced it had recently accelerated the research and development of a high value-add precursor cathode active material (P-CAM) for said batteries – with materials all sourced from the single Sconi nickel-cobalt-manganese orebody.

It’s a big development for the company and follows ongoing success in already producing P-CAM products for NCM523 and NCM622 batteries – each of which mirror the needs of major electric vehicle manufacturers.

The move further down the value chain is expected to allow AUZ access to significantly more attractive margins and prices compared with selling nickel and cobalt sulphates or early-stage intermediate mixed sulphate/hydroxide precipitate.

The below chart says it all, really.

Australian Mines
Current market prices for P-CAM, CAM and precursor materials (from Li-ion battery cathode manufacture in Australia – a report released by the Future Battery Industries CRC in 2020). Pic: Supplied.

A scoping study into the economics of incorporating a P-CAM production facility as part of the Sconi project will be carried out this quarter, with a view to replacing the existing nickel and cobalt sulphate circuit onsite.

Australian Mines managing director Benjamin Bell said the further value add would make a significant difference moving forward.

“We have already successfully (and repeatedly) produced independently certified battery-grade cobalt sulphate and nickel sulphate crystals for supply to potential offtake partners and high purity scandium oxide for supply to our R&D partners,” he said

“It was recognised, though, that the Sconi Project’s specific composition of nickel, cobalt and manganese could support the production of higher value precursor cathode active material (P-CAM) from a single source.

“Preliminary work by Australian Mines suggest that the process of producing high value P-CAM can be easily integrated in the proposed processing flowsheet for the Sconi production plant.

“As such, further production runs of P-CAM are planned for 2021 as interest in this product from industry participants and potential offtake partners intensifies.”

Offtake negotiations are currently ongoing with a number of potential partners on the product, covering the full range of battery precursor chemicals successfully produced at Sconi.