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The electric vehicle battery market is being supercharged during the COVID-19 crisis, and a Townsville project is poised to make the most of the hot demand.

Newly appointed Pure Minerals chief executive officer Stephen Grocott said the company’s TECH battery chemicals project was well-placed to enter the fray.

It skipped the steps involved in getting a mining operation off the ground by tapping established ore sources in New Caledonia and drew on a supply and logistics chain already in place for the mothballed Queensland Nickel operation, he said.

“We can move quite quickly for what is a sophisticated manufacturing operation,” Dr Grocott said.

He was commenting after Tesla’s Elon Musk made a plea this week for mining companies to get nickel operations into production to meet the looming demand in the battery market.

Dr Grocott said also governments overseas, particularly in Europe, were fast-tracking the transition to electric vehicles with investment linked to COVID-19 stimulus measures.

“The coronavirus crisis is actually accelerating things for our industry,” he said.

The $554 million battery chemicals plant planned for Townsville is expected to have annual production of 26,398 tonnes of nickel sulphate, 3097 tonnes of cobalt sulphate, 327,665 wet metric tonnes of haematite and 20,079 tonnes of magnesia.

Pure Minerals recently completed prefeasibility work to add HPA (high purity alumina) – also known as synthetic sapphire – to the TECH (Townsville Energy Chemicals Hub) stream.

“HPA is a massive growth market for LED lighting and for electric vehicle batteries,” Dr Grocott said.

“The good thing about the TECH project is we will produce very high purity at a very low cost as a by-product of our process.”

Pure Minerals is continuing refurbishment work on a pilot plant in Perth to allow it to complete process verification work later this year, as well as progressing engineering studies for the Townsville facility.

Dr Grocott said the company was also continuing talks with potential investors and offtake partners.

Pure Minerals aims to be in production in Townsville within two to three years, and Dr Grocott said the plant would employ about 130 people in operational roles and approximately 1000 during construction.

It will process nickel laterite ore from supply partners in New Caledonia.

Dr Grocott is due to present at the Connecting Industry Conference, hosted by RIM, in August.

He said his message would be that the project was meeting a credible market, with technology that made the most of the resource and eliminated waste while providing highly skilled jobs for the region.

“The global market for batteries for electric vehicles particularly but also storage is absolutely mindboggling. It is staggering how huge this growth is,” he said.

“There are electric vehicle plants being built all over the world, there are battery plants being built all over the world. What’s missing is the supply of the high purity feedstocks into those plants.”