Nickel is a key component of future technologies that demand high-strength alloys and a pivot from hydrocarbons to electrical energy systems. The availability of such large quantities of nickel in the future can only be assured by the processing of laterite ores. Nickel extraction from lateritic ores follows two distinct routes – hydrometallurgical and pyrometallurgical – each route with distinctly different environmental and cost footprints. Of these two routes, the hydrometallurgical high-pressure acid leach (HPAL) process, in which technology Sherritt is a recognized leader, is most cost effective for supplying nickel and cobalt in a form and purity that integrate readily into the electric battery value chain. Sherritt is also a well-known industrial pioneer in using hydrogen gas to recover metal powders from process solutions.
Sherritt continuously looks for opportunities to further develop and improve its current HPAL and metals refining operating practice and technology, such as through leveraging artificial intelligence in process control. However, building on our key technology platforms, we also keep an eye on the future and actively develop and evaluate new technology options to increase resource utilization, decrease our environmental impacts and lower costs. In the area of nickel laterite processing, our Next Generation Laterite program is a comprehensive evaluation of process avenues to address future nickel demand.
Our key technology platform of high-temperature, high-pressure processing has also led to the identification of a number of proprietary process routes for complex copper concentrates, where atmospheric emissions, process residue and environmental stability are key industry concerns. These process technologies have negligible atmospheric emissions, excellent process residue and environmental stability, and also provide further features that are attractive in specific applications.
Nickel derived from the HPAL process is more sustainable than nickel derived from the smelting/refining of nickel pig iron (NPI). Competitor plans to supply the electric vehicle industry with nickel derived from NPI runs contrary to recent calls from the battery industry for “greener” nickel production, as both its carbon footprint and its potential for sulphur dioxide emissions are high. Carbon dioxide emissions from the proposed process are estimated to be higher than average nickel production and as much as three times higher than nickel produced from the HPAL process.
From the Technologies Division in Fort Saskatchewan, Sherritt actively networks with experts and service and technology partners worldwide to complement its in-house technology development. Over the past year, Technologies has initiated a well-received virtual webinar program, Bits & Bytes, that brings people together around topics of general industry interest, such as equality, inclusiveness and innovation.