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World-class processes at Coral Bay

Article - July 28, 2011
Sumitomo and Nickel Asia’s Coral Bay Nickel Corp. is putting mine waste to good use
In nickel mining, a great deal of low-grade nickel ore (called laterite) is also extracted in the process. Considered mine waste by many due to the complicated process of separating the nickel and iron from the rest, some companies are in fact specialized in this and have made it big business. One such company is Coral Bay Nickel Corporation (CBNC), a subsidiary of Sumitomo Metal Mining (SMM) Company of Japan. CBNC partners with Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation (RTNMC), a subsidiary of Nickel Asia Corporation (NAC), the Philippines’ largest nickel mining company.

“Through our process known as HPAL, or high-pressure acid leach, low grade nickel ore or laterite of RTNMC is utilized to produce nickel/cobalt mixed sulphide that is refined in Japan and used as a component for stainless steel,” explains Takanori Fujimura, president of CBNC. “So, through our process, a waste material like laterite has been given a ‘second lease on life’ to be valuable and useful all over again.”

CBNC is Sumitomo’s first project in the Philippines, and it’s made quite a splash. The HPAL facility has been in operation since 2005 and is still going strong, as opposed to the fates of other HPAL plants worldwide, many of which have already closed or suspended operations.

“Operating an HPAL plant may be difficult but we’re happy that we’re able to attain our targets not only because of our superior technology, but also because of having world-class Filipino workers,” boasts Mr. Fujimura.

CBNC produces some 24,000 metric tons (mt) of nickel annually at its facility in the southern part of Palawan province. Thanks to Coral Bay’s tremendous success, Sumitomo has decided to build a second plant, this one adjacent to the Taganito Nickel Mine (a project of NAC) in the northeast region of Mindanao Island. With a price tag of $1.3 billion, the Taganito HPAL plant, or THPAL, will be the largest single investment in the Philippine mining sector.

THANKS TO THE CORAL BAY HPAL FACILITIES, LATERITE IS GIVEN A ‘SECOND LEASE ON LIFE’ AND CONVERTED INTO A USEFUL MATERIAL

THE UPCOMING $1.3 BILLION HPAL PLANT AT TAGANITO REPRESENTS THE LARGEST SINGLE INVESTMENT IN THE PHILIPPINE MINING SECTOR
Once commercial oper-ations begin in mid-2013, THPAL is forecast to produce 30,000mt annually. CBNC and THPAL’s combined annual production of 54,000mt will represent 54% of Sumitomo’s middle-term strategy to produce 100,000mt of nickel. According to Mr. Fujimura, this will ultimately turn Sumitomo into one of the world’s biggest nickel producers.

CBNC benefits from its mother company’s 400-year long history in mining.

Sumitomo Metals can trace its roots back to the late 1500s when the original Mr. Sumitomo’s brother-in-law learned Western methods of copper refining. Over the centuries, the company also refined its business, technologies and operations, becoming a pioneer in ecology and community care.

“CSR and environmental protection is nothing new to SMM. Unlike other companies, we have our own strict CSR and environmental programs within our company,” comments Mr. Fujimura. “In the case of CBNC, together with our local partner RTNMC, we have a Social Development and Management Program. This embodies our social commitment to the local communities, that include 11 barangays and 24 indigenous cultural communities.”

He adds that regarding employment, CBNC’s “thrust is to seek first in the locale for highly qualified people before searching outside the area.”

Coral Bay also pays special attention to its safety and environmental controls in order to prevent the underground infiltration of acidic liquids and the release of harmful gases into the air. The company’s strict regulations also protect the precious coral reefs along Mindanao’s coast.

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