Lab Canada

Inco starts up hydromet demonstration plant

Argentia, NL – Inco says it has started up a demonstration plant in Argentia, NL, to test hydrometallurgical processing technologies for treating Voisey’s Bay nickel concentrates.

“The demonstration plant at Argentia will build on the successes we’ve already achieved with our hydromet R&D program at the mini-pilot plant in our Sheridan Park research facility,” says Scott Hand, Inco’s chairman and CEO. “We believe hydromet technology can play an important part in the future of the Voisey’s Bay project and will help to position Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador at the forefront of mineral processing technology worldwide.”

With the financial support of $60 million from Technology Partnerships Canada, Inco launched an approximately US$150-million research and development program in 2002 aimed at confirming the commercial application of hydrometallurgical technology, or hydromet, to treat Voisey’s Bay nickel concentrates.

“Our hydromet research and development program represents one of the most significant R&D investments in Canada,” said Mr Hand. “Hydromet technology offers a cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to conventional smelting and refining which will help place the Canadian mining industry at the forefront of the development of this processing technology.”

Inco is developing hydromet technologies for Voisey’s Bay in four stages: bench-scale laboratory testing, which is already completed; the operation of a 1/10,000 scale mini-pilot plant which began in 2003 and was completed in June 2005; the operation of a 1/100 scale demonstration plant; and its final application in a commercial plant environment. The commercial plant, utilizing this technology to treat Voisey’s Bay nickel concentrates, would be built in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Hydromet is said to have several key advantages over a conventional smelting and refining process. It is more economical in terms both of capital and operating expenses, more energy efficient, and more environmentally friendly, eliminating the sulphur dioxide and dust emissions associated with a conventional smelter.

“The successful operation of our mini-pilot plant in Sheridan Park has greatly improved our understanding of how hydromet can be applied to process Voisey’s Bay concentrate,” says Mr Hand. “We are optimistic that the demonstration plant will confirm its commercial feasibility for processing Voisey’s Bay concentrate.”

Some 150 people will be involved in the operation of the demonstration plant. The demonstration plant phase of the hydromet R&D program is scheduled to conclude in late 2007, at which time Inco will complete its assessment of the technical and economic feasibility of using hydromet technology to treat Voisey’s Bay nickel concentrates at the commercial processing plant. Construction of the commercial processing plant would begin in 2009 and be completed by the end of 2011.