Saturday, 28 November 2020
Austmine Site Visit Review: Goro Nickel, Vale

Austmine Site Visit Review: Goro Nickel, Vale

Austmine was recently invited to participate in a regional forum in New Caledonia by our local partner organisation AMD (Association Maintenance Durable). The week included workshops surrounding innovation, education and training in the Asia Pacific, networking events with local businesses and site visits to major mining and processing operations.

The second site visit of the week was to Vale’s Goro Nickel operations. The complex includes mining operations with a footprint of 1900 hectares, a hydrometallurgical process plant, power plant, port facility, camp and nursery for plant regeneration.

The project is situated in the Southern province and it represents one of the most important economic contributors for the region. Since production commenced in 2010, the operation has faced a number of challenges economically and environmentally. However, with the growing electric vehicles and batteries market, Vale is in a good position to service this through nickel and cobalt production at Goro.  

The Mine:

Goro’s mine life us currently until 2038 but there are significant reserves in the region to continue operations long beyond that point. Similar to many operations in New Caledonia, mining is undertaken very close to the surface from a number of terraces. They currently produce 37Kt of nickel per year but aim to boost production with a range of operational improvements and de-bottlenecking measures.

Currently, a lot of the mining on site is dedicated to the creation of haul roads and moving rock for stability purposes. While the fleet at Vale is impressive in size, maintenance of machinery and workshops operations represent one of the greatest challenges for their mining team. This is largely due to the ongoing skills challenge and labour shortage in New Caledonia, where industries across the country are struggling to find engineers, managers, mechanics and welders with the right qualifications.

Project Lucy: A World First

The management and treatment of waste is an ongoing concern for mining operations across New Caledonia, given the fragile coral reef ecosystem surrounding the island. With Vale’s tailings at the site projected to be full in 4 years’ time and safety at the forefront of thinking, management decided to undertake a $500 million investment in the world’s first ‘Project Lucy.’

Project Lucy involves dry stacking of the waste generated from the Goro mine and processing facility. Currently, Vale is operating a test tailings de-watering facility that has been successful and plans are proceeding to construct the full plant, which will be 10 times the current size.

Water is first pumped out and treated at the plant, before going back to the sea. During this process there is ongoing measurement of the acidity levels in the water. The waste that is left behind becomes a solid, clay-like product that can be stably stacked. The dry tails will be stored behind the existing dam and will have channels created to remove any rain water from the stack, given that it is a high rainfall area.

Vale also host a nursery with over 300,000 plants in the region to be used for regeneration of the mine and for the dry stacked tailings.

Processing, Power and the Port:

Vale has chosen to use the hydrometallurgical process at Goro, more suitable for treating low grade laterites. Several steps are used to extract nickel and cobalt from laterite to produce the exported products of nickel oxide and cobalt carbonate. For a description of this process, see Vale’s website here.

Vale’s huge processing facility is powered by an on-site plant, operated by Prony Energies. They have 2 units of 50MW, one for Vale’s process plant and the other for the public. The final products of nickel oxide and cobalt carbonate are shipped to Vale’s refinery in Dalian, China.

Austmine would like to thank the team at Vale’s Goro Nickel project for the site and process plant tour. We look forward to continuing our relationship with Vale in New Caledonia and to helping them solve operational challenges with input from our members.

It was fantastic to see a number of members already working on site, including Airobotics, Komatsu, Enware, Allight Sykes, Manitou Group, Hexagon Mining and Trimble.

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