Potential complementarity and synergy between existing plants of two key European raw material producers, ERAMET and Boliden, led to the idea of a partnership between them to create a new short loop business for the European industry. With the support of universities experts in process thermodynamics, kinetics, and characterization, the development aims to create a new ecosystem that will consolidate production of strategic metals for the European Economy.
Due to the highly competitive market on nickel, ERAMET launched a strategic programme in 2013 aiming at strengthening its Sandouville plant’s positions in the high-purity nickel market, as well as preserving the local employment (170 people). High purity nickel is among other uses vital for the development of electric cars. ERAMET’s programme involves the adaptation of existing refining processes and a change in the business model.
In that regard, instead of shipping in nickel concentrate (matte) from New Caledonia, ERAMET started a partnership with Boliden’s Harjavalta smelter in Finland to study the feasibility of importing nickel mattes from a closer country. This has rapidly shown a good potential but with the needs of significant changes in the refining process. Thanks to this great symbiosis, the first positive impact is the best use of the raw materials in order to recover and produce nickel, cobalt, iron, copper and precious metals in a competitive way. Secondly, by optimizing the processes at both plants, this partnership allows continued production of high purity nickel salts and metals at the ERAMET Sandouville plant. Thanks to the better competitive positioning, ERAMET/Boliden will secure the supply of pure nickel based products for a large number of customers in Europe. Furthermore, the cooperation will enable to develop the expertise of both plants, contributing to their sustainability it has also a positive impact on the environment by reducing the carbon footprint.
From new sources of nickel sulphide concentrates, the Boliden Harjavalta Nickel smelter will produce Ni/Cu/Co/PGM mattes. These Mattes contain a mixture of iron, nickel, cobalt, copper and small contents of precious metals as palladium, platinum, gold and silver. They will be treated in ERAMET Sandouville Ni Refinery to recover nickel, cobalt and iron. The refinery will separate a copper intermediate product containing the copper and the precious metals, will be then sent back to Boliden. This Copper Intermediate will be used as raw material in the Boliden Copper plant where the copper and the precious metals will be valorized, as well as the sulphur from copper intermediate which will be converted into sulphuric acid. After successful testing of a pilot project by NewEco, a partnership supported by EIT RawMaterials, the ERAMET Sandouville plant in France is undergoing a €34.5 million upgrade that allows it to replace suppliers in the South Pacific with a new European source for nickel concentrate.