The US$2.1bn Ramu nickel project near Madang, on the north coast of PNG, is one of the largest and most ambitious mining and processing projects to have been successfully brought into production in PNG during the past decade. Construction was largely completed by 2012 and the plant has since been progressively brought into production.
The production figures until the end of 2015 are shown in the table below, demonstrating the consistent improvement in operating performance.
|Ore Processed (dry kilotonnes)||647||1,253||2,273||2,784||2,270||3,400|
|MHP Produced (dry tonnes)||13,777||29,736||57,360||65,286||57,824||78,000|
|Contained Nickel (tonnes)||5,283||11,369||20,987||25,582||22,269||32,600|
|Contained Cobalt (tonnes)||469||1,013||2,134||2,505||2,191||3,300|
|% Nameplate Capacity||16%||35%||64%||78%||68%||100%|
|MHP Shipped (dry tonnes)||576||39,472||57,216||53,291||64,307||78,000|
|Contained Nickel (tonnes)||217||15,123||21,100||20,747||24,199||31,150|
|Contained Nickel (tonnes)||19||1,338||2,164||2,004||2,376||3,300|
The Kurumbukari nickel and cobalt laterite mine is connected by a 135km pipeline from the Kurumbukari plateau, to the Basamuk process plant which is 75km east of the provincial capital of Madang, along the Rai Coast of the Vitiaz Basin.
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First discovered in 1962, Highlands Gold Limited in 1992 assumed the management of the current joint venture. An intensive period of geological exploration and engineering led to a prefeasibility study and in 1996 the establishment of the Ramu Nickel Joint Venture to prepare a bankable feasibility study. In 2000 the project was granted its Special Mining License and in 2005 Metallurgical Corporation of China Limited (MCC) joined the joint venture and was responsible for financing and construction of the project.
|1962||Ramu laterite ore was discovered by the Australian Bureau of Mineral Resources. Extensive exploration, sampling and testing follows.|
|Late 1990s||Highlands Pacific Ltd. commenced Feasibility Study and permitting applications.|
|2000||Ramu Nickel Project was sanctioned by PNG Government with the signing of Ramu Project Mining Development Contract (“MDC”) and the issuing of Special Mining Lease 8.|
|2003||MCC commenced technical and economic due diligence on the Ramu Nickel Project.|
|2004||February, the Framework Agreement for the joint development of the Ramu Nickel Project was signed between MCC, the PNG parties and the PNG State.|
|2005||March, Project Master Agreement was signed between MCC and the PNG parties. October, Ramu Nickel Joint Venture Agreement was signed, Ramu NiCo becoming the Project Manager.|
|2006||April, Project Financing Agreements were concluded. August, Amending MDC was signed with the PNG State. November, Project Foundation Ceremony was held.|
|2007||July, Amended Project Development Proposal was approved by the Mineral Resources Authority; MCC-JJJ Mining Development Company was formed.
December, Project Environmental Permit for construction and operation stages was granted from the Department of Environment Conversation.
|2008||The Project moves into full-scale construction.|
|2010||The Project construction substantially completes and commissioning starts.|
|Since 2012||The Project production is ramping up as scheduled.|
In PNG, the Project is an unincorporated joint venture between MCC Ramu (85%); MRML (2.5%) and MRRL (with 3.94%) two subsidiaries of Mineral Resource Development Corporation (MRDC) on behalf of PNG government and landowner interests; and RNL (8.56%), a subsidiary of former developer Highland Pacific Ltd. Ramu NiCo Management (MCC) Limited, as the Manager of the Project appointed by all joint venture parties, is fully responsible for construction, development and operation of the Project.
In China, MCC Ramu NiCo Limited is wholly owned by MCC-JJJ Mining, whose shareholders include China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC), a Fortune 500 company and three of the largest enterprises in the Chinese nickel and stainless steel industry, namely Jinchuan Group Limited, Jilin Jien Nickel Industry Limited, and Jiuquan Iron & Steel (Group) Limited. These four giants give the Project strong supports on financing, technology and operation, and furthermore form a strategic alliance in developing and consuming nickel and cobalt.
MCC is the project’s operator.
Mining and Beneficiation Plant
The Kurumbukari Mine is located on the Kurumbukari plateau, 600m to 800m above sea level and 75km to the southwest of Madang. It consists of 19 unit projects in total, including open-pit mine, de-agglomeration plant, beneficiation plant and supporting facilities such as water plant and power plant. The Kurumbukari nickel deposit is a low strip ratio, free digging open pit mine. Face shovels and backhoe configured excavators mine the average 12 metre thick ore-body and load into trucks for delivery to the beneficiation plant. The plant removes the chromite and creates a correctly sized and consistent slurry feed for overland pipeline transport to the Basamuk process plant.
A 135km slurry pipeline runs from the Kurumbukari mine/beneficiation plant to the Basamuk refinery, with a drop in elevation of about 680m. Being the first long distance transportation pipeline in the world for nickel laterite projects, it is specially designed and constructed to make full use of the potential energy difference between the Krumbukari plateau and the coast, as well as the rheology of the slurry. The majority of the pipeline has been buried and has road access for ease of checking and maintenance.
Basamuk Process Plant
The Basamuk Process Plant is on the coast of Basamuk bay, 5m to 60m above the sea level and 55km to the southeast of Madang. It has 28 unit projects, including slurry treatment, high pressure acid leaching, CCD washing, neutralization ,Fe/Al removal and precipitation as well as supporting components such as limestone preparation, sulfuric acid plant, water plant, power plant and wharf. The Basamuk process plant incorporates three High Pressure Acid Leach (HPAL) trains (autoclaves) and is designed to produce 78,000 tonnes (dry) of mixed hydroxide product containing 32,600 tonnes of nickel and 3,300 tonnes of cobalt per annum. The plant has a two train acid making facility as well as a limestone processing plant for making the key reagents used in the making of the mixed hydroxide product.
Exports and Sales
Since production started in 2012 mixed nickel cobalt hydroxide intermediate product has been exported to China where contracts are in place to receive the product. Up until the end of 2016 a total of 81,385 t of nickel and 7,901 t of cobalt in an intermediate form has been sold
Environment and Deep Sea Tailings
Based on advice from international experts received during the study and permitting stages it was decided to dispose of the tailings from the operation into the 1500 metre deep sea canyons as this represented the most appropriate and safe method of disposal. Reasons for this decision include the fact that the area has among the highest rainfalls in the region and land based tailing storage could be disturbed in a highly active volcanic and high-rainfall region while impinging on agriculture and landholder customary land.