Vale doubles down on nickel ahead of EV revolution

LONDON (Reuters) - Vale, the Brazilian mining giant built on supplying the world’s steel mills with iron ore, is now betting on the electric vehicle (EV) revolution to turn its nickel division around.

“We believe in this revolution to come,” Chief Executive Fabio Schvartsman told analysts at the company’s investor day presentation in New York this week.

The use of nickel in lithium ion batteries will translate into at least 500,000 tonnes of extra demand by 2025, according to Vale, which is planning to play a leading role in meeting the additional need for high-grade metal.

However, to do so, it will have to turn around its troubled New Caledonian operations, a task described by Schvartsman as “maybe our biggest challenge”.

It will also have to gamble that Chinese players led by the Tsingshan steel group don’t make the technological breakthrough that would allow them to convert nickel ore straight into battery-grade nickel.

That would undermine demand for the sort of high-purity material, so-called Class I nickel, that Vale specializes in producing.

STILL WAITING FOR GORO

Vale had been hoping to attract a partner for its Vale New Caledonia (VNC) operations but evidently without success.

It will now go it alone.

What was originally known as the Goro project has been strewn with operational problems ever since it came on stream, two years late, in 2011.

In theory, it’s perfectly positioned to ride the EV revolution, producing the right sort of nickel for processing into batteries with a by-product stream of cobalt, another hot battery metal.

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