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The clock is ticking for potential Sconi offtake partners to secure battery materials ahead of a forecast ‘pinch point’ for nickel supplies in 2023, says Australian Mines.

In a quarterly update the company said its priority was advancing discussions with potential offtake partners for the North Queensland cobalt-nickel-scandium project.

The market dynamics of the electric vehicle (EV) and clean energy storage industries underpinned Australian Mines’ confidence it would secure an offtake agreement for Sconi, it said.

“Potential offtake partners understand they will need to execute an offtake agreement no later than calendar 2021 to mitigate their nickel supply risk, expected to emerge in 2023, due to Sconi’s two-year project development timeline,” the company said.

“However, we expect the forecast increase in demand for battery materials will incentivise potential offtake partners to enter into supply agreements earlier, with the objective of securing more favourable terms”

The company has been building Sconi’s stengths, with new trial production runs of advanced battery materials.

Australian Mines managing director Benjamin Bell said recent successful production runs further demonstrated the company’s ability to consistently deliver battery-grade precursor chemicals of cobalt sulphate and nickel sulphate that could be applied directly into the manufacturing process of electric vehicle batteries.

The company also recently announced it had entered into an agreement with Deakin University’s Institute for Frontier Materials to support a project to develop new aluminium alloys using high purity scandium oxide sourced from the Sconi project.

The project, which commenced on October 12, proposes to employ machine learning algorithms and Deakin expertise to create next generation aluminium alloys to improve the performance of industrial processes within the energy industry.

“Our new partnership with Deakin University to explore the industrial applications of premium grade scandium oxide, in terms of new aluminium alloy research, highlights the potential additional value-add which exists within our flagship Sconi roject beyond the EV and battery markets,” Mr Bell said.

“It also recognises the expanding new uses for scandium, which is now recognised as a critical commodity.”

The company said also an independent study of drilling and geological datasets had identified 14 significant additional nickel, cobalt and scandium mineralisation targets for follow up in the Sconi region.

Australian Mines said the new targets would be the subject of an exploration and testing program over the coming year, the results of which may drive an upward revision of the Sconi mineral resource and the project life span.

Sconi is expected to produce 1,405,000 tonnes of nickel sulphate and 209,000 tonnes of cobalt sulphate over the project’s initial 30-year mine life.