As demand increases for alternatives to fossil fuels, battery minerals production has increased worldwide. Traditional methods for the bulk material handling of these applications are being reconsidered due to stringent contamination requirements for battery minerals. One of these minerals is nickel sulphate hexahydrate (NiSO4·6H2O), a strategic material used to produce electric vehicle (EV) batteries.
A greenfield hydrometallurgical plant in the EU began operation in 2021. Using imported laterite ore as the base material, a nickel sulphate crystalliser process is used to create battery-grade nickel sulphate hexahydrate. To meet international demand for this extremely valuable mineral, contamination-free conveying is required to handle the emerald-green crystals.
Plant requirements to produce nickel sulphate hexahydrate
The plant was designed to operate at an annual capacity of 50,000 tonnes of NiSO4·6H2O when in full production, with operations running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. To meet those conditions, all plant equipment and process line technology required high availability and reliability rates. And they needed the equipment as quickly as possible.
Bucket elevators pose challenges for battery minerals processing
The EPCM (Engineering, Procurement and Construction Management) company responsible for the design and commissioning of the plant typically use a combination of a screw feeder and bucket elevator to convey bulk materials. For this project, bucket elevators presented difficulties conveying NiSO4·6H2O.
- NiSO4·6H2O can become sticky in the process from the dryer. This causes build-up in each bucket, creates a hard crust, and ultimately leads to machine failure.
- Removing build-up from hundreds of buckets is incredibly detrimental to the process and impractical.
- Bucket elevators are difficult to bring back online after a breakdown and can be offline for days, disrupting the supply of a critical commodity.
- Spilled product residue is problematic in bucket elevators because it gets in the mechanism and eventually disables the machinery. It’s also a costly problem for high-value minerals like NiSO4·6H2O.
- NiSO4·6H2O is toxic to humans and the environment. Operators are exposed to a large area of the internal workings of a bucket elevator creating OHS concerns.
- A fully sealed conveying system is required to prevent ferrous contamination, but it’s extremely costly to seal a bucket elevator from atmospheric exposure.
- Given the sheer size and number of joints in a bucket elevator, contamination is more likely to happen even if it is sealed.
- The machine has many internal moving parts buckets, bucket pivots, etc. Each adds to the overall contamination risk as the wear particles will likely reach the product.
- Bucket elevators are good for long-distance, vertical elevation but encounter problems when catering to complex routes. This could become a future operational problem as the plant changes over time.
- Additional height and gravity chutes are required to feed into downstream equipment, adding significant infrastructure requirements.
- Bucket elevators are traditionally suited to larger particles, which is why they’re a popular choice for traditional mining applications. They experience lower availability and higher breakdown rates when used with smaller particles and powders.
A better option for conveying battery-grade nickel sulphate hexahydrate
Quickly realising that a bucket elevator was not ideal for a nickel sulphate crystalliser process, the EPCM began to explore other options. Having seen Floveyor AMC conveyors in operation at another nickel sulphate processing plant, they contacted Floveyor with the following equipment specifications.
- Mineral structure: Crystalline
- Particle size d50: 700 microns
- Bulk density: 900-1300 kg/m³
- Normal flow: 5600 kg/hr
- Minimum flow: 3900 kg/hr
- Throughput: 9 tph
- Downtime: 10% or less
- Flexible outlet
- Dosing screw feeder at the inlet
Floveyor’s FloDisc Technology® results in the lowest possible friction between the material and the inner pipe surface which helps to preserve the crystalline structure of NiSO4·6H2O. In addition, risk of contamination is mitigated better than any other materials handling solution for hazardous or environmentally sensitive materials. No other AMC manufacturer offers these benefits.
Materials testing in the Floveyor R&D centre confirmed all the project requirements for processing NiSO4·6H2O were met. As a result, an order was placed for a Floveyor Endura F4 and a dosing screw feeder in January 2021. Notable features included:
- ~20-meter-long tubes
- Flexible outlet
- Fully sealed conveying environment
- Minimal dust, residue and spillage
- Easy clean-in-place (CIP) with inert gas
- 25-year service life, even with continual use
- Minimal maintenance requirement.
Floveyor logistics management and customer service provided added value
Floveyor was able to manufacture the machinery and process line technology to meet tight turnaround times. Despite the world being in the throes of COVID-19 supply chain issues, as an OEM, Floveyor had controls in place to ensure their supply chain was adequate to meet demand. They also ship directly from their factory, so there was no middleman in the delivery logistics.
The Floveyor Endura F4 was commissioned in August 2021, as scheduled. The nickel sulphate hexahydrate processing plant came online in December 2021 and is fully operational. A Floveyor with FloDisc Technology plays an essential role in materials handling of battery-grade minerals for the European nickel sulphate crystalliser processing plant.
Download our data sheet about the advantages of using Floveyor conveyors for battery-grade minerals handling.
For more about Floveyor in battery minerals processing
Get in touch if you’d like to find out how Floveyor can help you with your battery minerals challenges. More than 6,000 Floveyor machines have been installed worldwide, focusing on industries like food and beverage and pharmaceutical and chemical processing. These industries benefit from the unique features of Floveyor’s AMC method of conveying for safe, hygienic, and dust- and contamination-free powder handling.