THE CONFERENCE CALLER: Western Australia Minister for Mines, Energy, and Petroleum, Bill Johnston began in predictable fashion when opening the 2020 Paydirt Nickel Conference by highlighting the 2019 Indonesian nickel ban and its effect on the global nickel price.
He then demonstrated his grasp of the situation, briefly commenting on the metal’s rebound this year thanks to China’s pandemic-related recovery and the recent comments of Elon Musk.
Johnston moved onto what nickel holds for Western Australia by acknowledging the part to be played by the battery industry.
“it’s very good news for Western Australia,” he said.
“With the second largest nickel reserves in the world and some of the highest-grade deposits.
“These deposits are clearly ideal for production of nickel sulphate, one of the mineral components that’s used for a lithium-ion battery.”
Johnston declared that the state government is a supporter of a downstream nickel processing industry in WA and he welcomed BHP Nickel West’s continuing efforts on its nickel sulphate plant in Kwinana.
“We expect that plant, when it is completed, to be producing 100,000 tonnes of nickel sulphate, and we expect to see that in production next year,” he said.
Johnston hardly reinvented the wheel in his address and stuck to some safe ground.
So, it was no surprise when he touched on electric vehicles (EVs) and energy storage devices as creating a great opportunity for the emerging Western Australia nickel industry.
“Many people outside this room don’t realise there is more nickel in a lithium-ion battery than there is lithium,” he declared knowledgably.
“So, we have a rapidly emerging battery metals processing sector here in Western Australia, and we have got very strong relationships with the principal battery industry countries, like China, Japan, and South Korea.
“We have got a strong, proven and clear industry regulation framework that aligns with social expectations for environmental sustainability around the world.”
All this, according to the minister, is why the government he represents is supporting an incentive package to get a plant active in WA.
Johnston made mention of an incentive package the McGowan government has in place, regarding which he displayed some umbrage that it hadn’t received much media coverage.
This probably had something to do with it being buried in an announcement for a $92.4 million suite of initiatives to activate new industries and create a jobs pipeline by the Premier and the Minister for Transport and Planning, Rita Saffioti.
As part of the $92.4 million package, $13.2 million has been earmarked as project funding to attract a global cathode active materials manufacturer to establish a production facility in WA.
“The cathode active manufacturing initiative includes incentives to offset project costs, such as land lease rates on industrial land to help businesses establish and keep local jobs in WA,” the announcement declared.
“This will strengthen WA’s position as a world leader in future battery minerals, materials, technology and expertise in global battery supply chains – and supports the implementation of the Western Australian Future Battery Industry Strategy.”
Johnston also touched on the role played by the Future Battery Industry’s (FBI) Property Research Centre.
The FBI has three main programs in train supporting industry development; one of these being a $10M pilot plant near Curtin University with the view of producing battery cathode material.
“This is a very important step forward in our Future Battery Industry Strategy and aligns with our vision to have Western Australia as an established supplier of battery materials; creating jobs, diversifying the economy; and benefitting regional communities,” Johnston said.
“Our strategy has four themes: investment attraction; project facilitation; research and development; and battery technology uptake.”
Johnston gave an example of the government’s support of the battery uptake theme with the connection of a large-scale battery in Kwinana.
“That’s on top of the range of other battery projects that we have for our energy system here in the southwest of the state,” he said.
Johnston wound up by reiterating the government’s support of the exploration sector, mentioning its recent announcement of an increase to its Exploration Incentive Scheme (EIS) funding.
An extra $5 million in funding for the EIS will increase funding for the EIS to $15 million in 2020-21.
The EIS supports five high-level programs, including the successful co-funded drilling program, which offers up to a 50 per cent refund for innovative drilling in under-explored areas in WA.
“The additional $5 million funding will invigorate the industry and allow more exploration companies to participate in the co-funded drilling program, creating jobs for Western Australians,” Premier Mark McGowan said in the announcement.
“The flow-on effect from this additional investment in exploration and technology will result in drilling companies deploying more rigs and workers, and lead to new resource discoveries.”
Johnston went on to inform Paydirt Nickel Conference delegates that the government was also reforming the current regulatory framework to reduce timelines for approvals process.
“I’m pleased to say that the department is reaching its reduced program of works timeline to just 15 business days and 99 per cent of applications since we changed the target date,” He went on.
“we are also continuing to examine how we can reduce mining approvals…we are moving to a single approval instrument to approve mining activities across multiple tenements.
“We’re aligning reporting frameworks around projects, rather than individual tenements.
“There will be a viewing process for low-impact exploration and prospecting activities, which will allow automated approvals, subject to standard conditions.
“We’re removing duplications in environmental reporting, with one annual environmental report across all tenements and all agencies
“And, also we are seeking to move to biannual reporting after three years fro projects satisfactorily complying with environmental obligations.”