Independence Group reported that construction of its underground Nova nickel-copper-cobalt project in southern Western Australia is nearing completion and is on target to produce its first concentrates before year-end 2016. After ramping up to full production, the project will produce 27,000 to 30,000 mt/y of nickel, 9,000 to 10,000 mt/y of copper, and 900 to 1,000 mt/y of nickel in concentrates.

The production start will be based on the Nova deposit, which is accessed via a decline. Mine production will be processed at 1,500-mt/d plant that includes conventional crushing, grinding by open-circuit SAG mill followed by a ball mill in closed circuit, and sulphide flotation to produce separate copper and nickel concentrates. Concentrates will be trucked to both Nickel West’s processing facilities at Kambalda and to the port of Esperance for export. The haul distances are 294 km to Kambalda and 380 km to Esperance.

Independence Group also reported that work has begun on a decline to access the Bollinger deposit, immediately to the east of the Nova deposit. Barminco, the existing underground mining contractor at the Nova project, is carrying out this additional development as an expanded scope of works. Separate access to the Bollinger deposit will increase haulage efficiencies and allow accelerated ramp-up to the processing plant’s designed throughput capacity, while still delivering the project within its original capital-cost budget of A$443 million.

Earlier planning had called for production from the Bollinger deposit to begin in mid-2020.

Independence Group Managing Director Peter Bradford said, “Since bringing the asset into the Independence Group portfolio, we have improved the project net present value (NPV) by 50% compared to the definitive feasibility study on a like-for-like basis. Additional opportunities remain to further increase the project NPV by improving the mining production rates and processing plant throughputs. This will be assessed once construction is complete and operations have ramped-up.”

Ore reserves in the Nova deposit total 10.9 million mt at grades of 2% nickel, 0.8% copper, and 0.06% cobalt. Ore reserves in the Bollinger deposit total 2.7 million mt of at grades of 2.2% nickel, 0.9% copper, and 0.09% cobalt.

Independence Group acquired the Nova project when it acquired Sirius Resources in 2015 in a transaction valued at about A$1.8 billion. The group has a 30% interest in the Tropicana gold mine in Western Australia, where AngloGold Ashanti is 70% owner and operator, and 100% interests in the Long nickel and Jaguar copper-zinc mines, also in Western Australia.