A new $6 million mineral ore pilot testing plant has been opened at Kewdale.
Officially opening the new plant - built and owned by Oretest and Lakefield - Resources Development Minister Colin Barnett said today it would put Western Australia at the forefront of world research into the treatment of nickel laterite ores.
Mr Barnett said Billiton/QNI, which had a 50 per cent interest in the Ravensthorpe Nickel project, had commissioned the plant to optimise the process configuration for the yet-to-be developed $720 million Ravensthorpe nickel project.
He said it would also provide leading-edge test facilities for a plethora of new laterite nickel deposits awaiting development elsewhere in Western Australia.
“The doubling of the value of nickel output in WA during the last operating year (1999/00) reinforces the mid-1990’s prediction that the State is progressing towards becoming the world’s premier nickel producing region,” Mr Barnett said.
“WA nickel production grew by 14 per cent to 143,000 tonnes of contained nickel metal worth $1.8 billion in 1999-00, increasing more than threefold in the last 10 years.
“Output is set to more than double over the next five years.
“At present, WA is the world’s third largest producer of mined nickel after Russia and Canada.
“Current development in the local nickel industry could see WA become the world’s largest producer.”
Mr Barnett said while sulphide-based ores formed the basis of WA nickel production up to 1999, the industry was poised for strong growth from both new or expanded sulphide and lateritic nickel ore deposits, which were either in the early stages of development or awaiting development along an 800km greenstone belt between Wiluna and Ravensthorpe.
The new $6 million pilot-scale testing facility at Kewdale was located on the premises of Lakefield Oretest, a joint venture between Lakefield Research of Canada and one of West Australia’s leading metallurgical research companies, Oretest.
“The new facility provides a step change increase in the size and configuration of pilot plant testing which was previously available only overseas,” the Minister said.
“The expanded Kewdale facility raises the profile of the State as a provider of reliable technical information in support of mineral processing feasibility studies.
“The merger of Oretest with Lakefield, the investment by Billiton/QNI in such a testing facility, and the global focus now on WA’s metallurgical testing capabilities, all bear witness to the maturing of the WA resources sector.
“This is creating local employment for professionally-trained scientists and laboratory technicians.
“Such a facility and its skilled workforce is also ensuring that the WA mineral resources sector continues to be at the forefront of technological research and development in the world.”
Media contact: Diana Callander - 9222 9686