Sherritt International reported on January 22, that the Ambatovy laterite nickel-cobalt project in Madagascar had reached commercial production. The project is a vertically integrated mining, processing, refining, and marketing joint venture between subsidiaries of Sherritt (40% ownership), Sumitomo (27.5%), Korea Resources (27.5%), and SNC-Lavalin (5%). Sherritt is the operator.

Sherritt defined commercial production at Ambatovy as ore throughput averaging 70% of nameplate capacity in the pressure acid leach circuit over a 30-day period, at which point all revenue and operating costs ceased to be capitalized.

The Ambatovy project is the world’s largest producer of finished nickel and cobalt products from lateritic ore. Sherritt is currently focusing on optimizing project performance and bringing it up to its nameplate capacity of 60,000 mt/y of finished nickel and 5,600 mt/y of finished cobalt.

The Ambatovy mine is located 80 km east of Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, within a few kilometers of the main road and rail system that connects Antananarivo and the main port city of Toamasina on the East Coast. The mine is based on two large, weathered lateritic nickel deposits located approximately 3 km apart. Combined, the deposits constitute one of the world’s largest lateritic nickel reserves, covering an area of about 1,800 ha, with depths ranging between 20 m and 100 m.

Ambatovy mine life is currently projected at 29 years. Due to the soft nature of the ore, no blasting is required. Ore is surface-mined by hydraulic excavators and delivered to an ore preparation plant by articulated haul trucks. The ore preparation plant is located at the mine site and separates the soft lateritic soil from rock and waste material.

The laterite is then combined with water to produce slurried ore, which is fed into a 220-km pipeline that links the mine to a hydrometallurgical processing plant and refinery directly south of Toamasina on the coast. This plant produces 99.8%-pure, LME-deliverable nickel briquettes that are packaged for shipment in 250-kg drums and 2,000-kg bags. Cobalt is produced as 99.8%-pure powder and LME-deliverable briquettes that are packaged in 250-kg drums.

Ammonium sulphate fertilizer is produced as a by-product of Ambatovy processing operations. This product is sold both to the Madagascar domestic market and to export markets.