The exploitation of nickel ore for the production of ferronickel is from the Koniambo massif. The saprolite deposit contains 75.6 million tonnes of measured and indicated resources grading 2.47% of nickel and 83 million tonnes of inferred resources grading 2.5%. The Koniambo orebody extends over 20 kilometers long and 5 kilometers wide. On this area of approximately 21 square kilometers has a mineralization of lateritic origin with high contents of nickel.
The laterite profile of the deposit can be described as having a thin layer of rich duricrust that is superimposed on a layer of limonite covering an area of transition finally leading to a layer of saprolite. The quality of nickel, cobalt, iron and various oxide ores varies with depth. The potential economic lateritic material is found mainly along the crest of the orebody and occasionally in the form of scattered pockets on several isolated terraces that extend to the West. Except for four large plates, limonite covering is generally less than 5 meters and it often brings out the trading saprolite.
Construction work started in March 2007 by the preparation of access to the plant site, its servicing, construction of offices and base camp that will host the workers. In September 2010, arriving at Vavouto the first building blocks of metallurgical plant and its power plant to assemble.
With its partner Falconbridge then Xstrata Nickel, and finally Glencore, SMSP through the joint venture KNS chaired by Marc BOISSONNEAULT, conducted commissioning in April 2013 of the pyrometallurgical plant first line. Five months later, the ore preparation unit and the conveyor are entered into operation.
In February 2014, the second production line is operational. The President of the French Republic, François HOLLANDE proceeded over the official inauguration of Koniambo Nickel in November 2014. End of 2014, the cost of construction and commissioning has reached 7 billion USD.
Following a leak on the metal furnace No. 1 in December 2014, the production was resumed on line 2.
Ferronickel production is carried out by using a conventional pyrometallurgical process with a new technology developed by units of research and development of Falconbridge. The process Nickel Smelting Technology, uses modern technology equipment, tested extensively in other heavy industries, and so solves many of the problems encountered with traditional ferronickel plants.
Its design is specifically designed to confine the dust, allowing advanced environmental performance. The process draws heavily on the cement industry has introduced in recent years the recycling and reuse of process gas to save energy. The need to treat fine particles has led to the selection of DC electric furnaces. In the same manner as in steel mills, the furnaces envelope is completely cooled by water. Very versatile furnaces are simple mechanical and metallurgical standpoint. The end result is a semi continuous process characterized by a high level of automation and efficient use of manpower.
The need for electricity is 210 megawatts in particular to provide the energy for melting the nickel ore to around 1,600 degrees. It is produced by two electric power plants (boiler circulating fluidized bed) of 132 megawatt coal-fired and two gas combustion turbine of 40 megawatts as spares. The need for fresh water facilities are met by desalination plants using reverse osmosis. A port was built for the needs of the operation as fuel import, consumables, equipment, spare parts and for the exportation of ferronickel.
Koniambo Nickel is an international example of sustainable development. The close involvement of local populations in all steps of the project is being coupled with a carefulness to limit the factory’s impact on New Caledonia’s natural environment so that future generations can be proud of this achievement and can continue to live in harmony in their natural setting.
This commitment toward sustainable development is present in all project areas: impact studies, compliance with stringent New Caledonian regulations and other international standards, and protection of land, marine and atmospheric environments.
The initial studies for implementing the North Plant pertained to the environment and its preservation, to which the public is particularly sensitive. New Caledonia is, in fact, one of the 34 biodiversity hotspots on earth, with an exceptional 78% rate of endemic species. Its lagoon, the world’s second largest unbroken coral reef, second only to that of Australia, is on UNESCO’s list of Natural World Heritage Sites. Thus the site chosen for the Koniambo factory is kilometres away from the nearest UNESCO site.
In order to be able to measure the impact of an industrial facility and mitigate its effects, in 2005 Koniambo Nickel finalized its comprehensive Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA). The document describes in detail the regulatory, socio-economic and political contexts and the Project’s social and environmental impacts. Significant impacts identified in the ESIA are matched with management plans that are consistent with current New Caledonian regulations and with North Plant’s own commitments in the area of sustainable development.
Koniambo Nickel is committed to respect all the standards, policies, codes of practice and international conventions applicable in New Caledonia. Where New Caledonian or French standards are silent, the company generally follows internationally recognized standards and the directives issued by the European Union, the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation and Canada.
Koniambo Nickel is also working to earn its ISO 14001 certification. This standard for environmental management was established to help corporations limit their environmental footprint, comply with environmental laws, regulations and other requirements, and set up continuous improvement programs.
Of the thousand plant species found on the mining and industrial site, 230 are on the red lists maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the North Province. Koniambo Nickel has thus carried out revegetation initiatives designed to reintroduce the original biodiversity in the disturbed areas while protecting the threatened species and minimizing erosion. The company also maintains protected areas in order to preserve the zones deemed most valuable from a biodiversity viewpoint.
Building a port on Vavouto Bay was not without its consequences on the marine environment. To limit the port’s environmental footprint and to compensate its effects, various measures were taken by Koniambo Nickel with the approval of the local communities.
In collaboration with local communities, a five-year program of replanting the mangrove on an area equivalent to that impacted during the construction of port infrastructure and their access has been planned.
Moreover, Koniambo Nickel has installed marine monitoring stations. These stations are used to test water quality, take sediment samples, and monitor the health of fish and aquatic plants.
Koniambo Nickel has set up four air-quality monitoring stations. These stations are on the industrial site and in the communities around the site. They are now being used to collect data prior to the factory’s production start-up and the commissioning of its related infrastructures, such as the power station.
The joint venture company KNS is governed by a Board of Directors comprising six members including three SMSP’s members and three Glencore’s members.