CSIRO is helping BHP’s Nickel West asset in their journey to become a producer of highly pure nickel sulphate for the battery industry.

The challenge

High-purity nickel is in demand for new batteries

Nickel is needed for formulations of lithium-ion batteries, which are undergoing rapid growth.

This base metal has been an Australian specialty since the late 1960s but it has primarily been supplied to stainless steel makers. Nickel is undergoing a significant change in the way it's sold to meet new demand for batteries.

BHP, for example, has said that demand for nickel sulphate from battery makers is growing rapidly and likely to overtake demand from traditional markets. BHP is transitioning its Nickel West operations in Western Australia (WA) to become a global supplier of nickel sulphate to the battery market.

But batteries require the highest purity materials to achieve the best electricity storage quality. So producing battery-grade nickel often requires new production process technology or improvements.

Our response

A pilot plant to test a new process

BHP set to produce battery grade nickel sulphate from their Nickel West operations at Kwinana , where it is seeking to construct one of the world's biggest nickel sulphate plant.

We helped to build and run a pilot plant to test BHP's nickel products for the battery market.

BHP worked with us to build a pilot plant at our Waterford site in Perth that replicates all aspects of the Kwinana plant in order to test their process to ensure product quality.

With our assistance, BHP was able to produce a quality product samples to specifications for their customers in the battery market.

The results

BHP now constructing a commercial plant in Western Australia

The pilot plant was operated in a dedicated facility over a period of nine weeks, with the capacity to produce up to 100 kilograms of dry nickel sulphate per day.

BHP provided samples of their high quality nickel sulphate product to customers in Asia who manufacture batteries for electric vehicles.

BHP has gone on to start construction of a nickel sulphate plant at the Kwinana Nickel Refinery, south of Perth.

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