Developments in the battery sector are fundamentally reshaping the nickel supply chain. Nickel has several mature applications in nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) and nickel-cadmium (NiCd) batteries but consumption in batteries has thus far not exceeded 4% of total consumption. Demand for nickel in lithium-ion batteries will soon make batteries the second-largest end-use application for nickel.
The major worldwide push to promote electric vehicles as a way of cutting emissions from fossil-fuelled vehicles has already resulted in increased primary nickel consumption in lithium-ion. Chinese incentives and regulations are steering battery producers and OEMs towards higher energy density batteries and longer-range options and nickel bearing NCM and NCA cathodes are thus expected to be dominant cathode technologies throughout the next decade.
Roskill’s report includes a detailed automotive outlook that distinguishes between growth trends for battery-electric vehicles, hybrids and plug-in hybrids, low-speed electric vehicles, as well as mild 48V and micro 12V vehicles. Based on this outlook, Roskill forecasts total, primary use of nickel in batteries to increase ten-fold to 2030.
The supply chain is already responding to the need for new capacity for nickel sulphate production. Processing capacity is rapidly being added in China, by conversions of existing plants (BHP Nickel West, Terrafame), and through new third-party processors (such as Thakadu Battery Materials). Over the next decade it is expected that other existing producers may also convert to sulphate production.
A key question facing the market is where the feedstock for nickel sulphate production may come from. Nickel sulphate can be produced by using a variety of feedstock material, such as crude nickel sulphate, briquettes, mixed sulphide precipitate, mixed hydroxide precipitate, carbonyl pellets and powder. Production of these feedstock materials is going to have to grow to satisfy the growing demand for nickel sulphate by the battery industry.
In its newly-published Nickel Sulphate Market Outlook report, Roskill provides a detailed assessment of the potential sources for nickel sulphate feedstock, which include Class I nickel, secondary sources, greenfields projects and perhaps new HPAL operations in Indonesia.