The Metals Company (TMC) has entered into a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Pacific Metals Co. of Japan to evaluate the toll treatment of an initial quantity of 1.3 million mt of wet polymetallic nodules per year at PAMCO’s Hachinohe smelting facility starting in 2025, consistent with commencement of TMC’s planned first commercial production by the end of 2024.

The toll treatment is intended to take place on a dedicated rotary kiln-electric arc furnace (RKEF) processing line and produce two products: nickel-copper-cobalt alloy, an intermediate product used as feedstock to produce Li-ion battery cathodes; and a manganese silicate product used to make silico-manganese alloy for steel manufacturing. PAMCO’s Hachinohe facility is located on the coast in northern Japan and has the port and processing infrastructure required to receive and process polymetallic nodules and to ship products to customers.

Under the MOU, PAMCO will undertake studies to estimate the cost of processing polymetallic nodules through existing facilities and identify any additional equipment requirements, currently expected to be minimal. This work will inform expected nodule throughput, process operating conditions and product specifications for PAMCO’s dedicated production line. PAMCO has received a 22-mt sample of polymetallic nodules for use in the evaluations.

In parallel, PAMCO is studying the addition of a facility to process the intermediate alloy to nickel-copper-cobalt matte, which is an upgraded intermediate battery supply chain feedstock. It is anticipated that the additional facility would be constructed once commercial processing of polymetallic nodules to alloy has been demonstrated. The parties are working towards a binding MOU for toll-processing in 2023 with definitive agreements to follow.

Gerard Barron, CEO and chairman of TMC, said: “We are excited about the prospect of working closely with PAMCO who have been smelting nickel laterite ores at their Hachinohe facility since 1965 and have considerable experience in adapting to various land-based feedstocks from the Pacific. Technically, the Hachinohe plant appears well-suited to deploy the near-zero solid waste flowsheet we developed for processing nodules with little modification.”

TMC, through its subsidiaries, holds exploration and commercial rights to three polymetallic nodule contract areas in the Clarion Clipperton Zone of the Pacific Ocean regulated by the International Seabed Authority and sponsored by the governments of Nauru, Kiribati and the Kingdom of Tonga.