JOBS: New Townsville nickel refinery powers electric cars

A NICKEL refinery poised to bring hundreds jobs to Townsville is hoping to secure contracts with the likes of Samsung, Panasonic and Tesla to supply material to make electric car batteries.

This week, the refinery moved a step forward after testing from CSIRO revealed the best way to manufacture high purity battery-grade nickel and cobalt sulphate.

Queensland Pacific Metals is looking to develop a $300 million Stage 1 plant near Yabulu in 2020, producing 25,000 tonnes of nickel sulphate and 3000 tonnes of cobalt sulphate by mid-2021.

A larger scale plant would produce 130,000 tonnes of nickel sulphate and 25,000 tonnes of cobalt sulphate, employing up to 800 people.

QPM commissioned Australia's leading research group CSIRO to test a factory design and sample product to continue discussions with potential buyers.

QPM executive director John Downie will travel to New Caledonia this weekend to meet with the suppliers of the nickel ore the Townsville factory will use as feedstock.

"I'm there until Wednesday; we're going to have our regular meeting with our suppliers and working group so we discuss how things are going at their end and firming up some of the details of the Memorandum of Understandings we have with them and inspecting their mines," Mr Downie said.

"It's quite an important thing to do, Australia is very much up the list of preferred export destinations for all so we want to make sure that continues and they want to know what we want to achieve."


The CSIRO Research Facility in Perth, Western Australia where they’re testing the process for Townsville’s new nickel refinery. Photo: Supplied
The CSIRO Research Facility in Perth, Western Australia where they’re testing the process for Townsville’s new nickel refinery. Photo: Supplied

Mr Downie said the results of CSIRO's recent testing was "developing confidence" in the new refinery project.

"CSIRO have just confirmed the process to say 'this is the optimum approach' so we can finish the feasibility study," he explained.

"What we now have to do is when we go to the final step of the feasibility study we'll run 80 tonnes from New Caledonia through the first part of the plant using recommendations from the CSIRO to make five or six thousand tonnes to ship it off to potential off-takers to sign up long-term contracts."

Mr Downie expects to get "a conditional sign-off" from offtake partners by mid-2020 and then firm long-term contracts shortly after with two or three major companies.

"We're looking at the major battery manufacturers; over in the EU where they have targets saying 70% of the cars they produce by 2025 have to be electric - but to do that you need to increase the quality of metal sulphate being produced around the world," he said.

"So the people that are making these batteries like Panasonic in Japan, Samsung in Korea, Huawei in China and then over in Europe and US like Tesla that are leading the way with these major battery plants."

In terms of job creation in North Queensland, Mr Downie said the first stage of the plant would create 150 permanent jobs, with a number of other roles within port operations, trucking and product handling.

Once the refinery gets to the stage of being able to produce other metals like iron, magnesium and manganese the employment opportunities would increase, with potentially up to an 800-strong workforce.

"There's very experienced people in Townsville in this industry and we're quite fortunate to be able to tap into that knowledge," Mr Downie said.

"As much as this is an opportunity (for jobseekers in Townsville) it's also an opportunity for us to find those people who can hit the ground running."