PRESENT AND FUTURE OF NICKEL IN CUBA
Cuba, considered the ninth nickel producing country in the world, will exceed 50 thousand tons of extraction of the metal in 2020 despite the Covid-19 pandemic, said an authorized source.
Such a productive level is achieved with the current capacities of the production factories and despite the pandemic scenario that characterizes 2020, the general director of Mining of the Ministry of Energy and Mines (Minem), Juan Ruiz, said in an interview with Prensa Latina.
The manager exemplified that the Comandante Pedro Sotto Alba factory -Moa Nickel sa, a joint venture with the Canadian firm Sherritt International-, overcomplies with its production plans and in turn compensates for the limitations of the socialist state-owned company Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara, currently in the process of capitalization.
Located in Moa, in the eastern province of Holguín, these industries have a mining concession (authorized plot) that at the current rate allows them to extract and export nickel for 17 or 20 years, according to the National Office of Mineral Resources (ONRM).
However, the nickel industry as a whole has other mining concessions already granted in Moa, Mayarí, Camagüey and Pinar del Río that ensure the production of Cuban nickel and cobalt for more than 50 years, Ruiz remarked and added that these data are included in the national balance of reserves and resources of the ONRM.
Together with other non-concessioned resources, which place the island among the countries with the largest reserves of nickel and cobalt, in fifth and third place respectively.
Cuba also has other deposits of the metallic mineral. 70 kilometers from Moa, in Mayarí, there are 300 million tons of the resource. Therefore, when the minerals of Moa are exhausted, those of Mayarí can be used, he said.
In San Felipe, Camagüey, there are also other deposits with resources estimated at 306 million tons of lateritic mineral, he said, adding that in the future minerals may be transferred from other regions of Cuba to the factories located in Moa or make a new investment. this, contemplated in the portfolio of opportunities of the nickel industry.
Another equally important reserve is located in Cajálbana, La Palma municipality, in the western province of Pinar del Río, for which an international economic association was recently signed with the aim of evaluating the feasibility of this deposit that contains more than 51 million tons. of the mineral.
Ruiz explained that the manufacturing factories today only extract nickel and cobalt, but since the beginning of nickel production in Cuba, more than 70 years ago, the industry’s tails are preserved, which contain 45 percent iron.
This is a raw material for the production of steel that is not consumed because it does not yet have the appropriate technology.
On the other hand, since 1943 the lower part of the already exploited deposits has been conserved, called saprolite, another essential raw material for the production of ferronickel and its use would allow the diversification of Cuban products.
Only in Moa, a ferronickel project can have mineral resources for more than 50 years, together with the possibilities of factories to request mining concessions from the ONRM in other areas and extend its life for another 50 years, Ruiz said.
In another order, the manager explained that the Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara factory is in the first year of a capitalization process planned for four, whose schedule is being met despite the difficulties imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The improvement of the infrastructure includes the main equipment of the process plants: dryers, kilns, settlers and tanks, as well as other types of kilns and industrial process machines.
In parallel, a training program is carried out for workers, and the quality management systems are reviewed to ensure compliance with the schedules.
NICKEL AND COBALT
Cuba ranks ninth in the world in terms of nickel production, but the most significant thing is that according to the United States Geological Survey and the latest Statista 2019 update, the island constitutes the fifth global reserve of the metal and the third of cobalt. affirmed the director of mining of the Minem.
According to the president of Tesla, Elon Musk, who wanted to minimize the consumption of cobalt in the batteries of electric vehicles, has negotiated long-term contracts with suppliers of this metal. This can be an important factor in everything related to the production of batteries for electric vehicles, specifically cobalt, said the Minem manager.
Regarding the expectations of nickel participation in the market for electric vehicles, he explained that the main application of nickel is and will continue to be the production of stainless steel and special steels, in whose productions.
In contrast, cobalt has a small-scale industrial production, because except in the Republic of the Congo, the main world producer, the rest of the countries do not have cobalt minerals and they obtain it as a by-product of the production of nickel and copper.
In 2019 alone, the global cobalt production was about 138 thousand tons, of which 72 percent was concentrated in the People’s Republic of the Congo.
Between the shortage of the mineral and its condition of being a fundamental element in the three elements – copper, nickel and manganese – used in the lithium battery, cobalt prices soared to more than 90 thousand dollars a ton in 2018, currently averaging 34 thousand.
This forced producers to look for alternatives, because more than 92 billion dollars needed to be invested in cobalt facilities and factories and the researchers focused on replacing the expensive metal. So far they have managed to decrease their share of batteries and instead use more nickel.
However, the main applications of cobalt are concentrated in super alloys, in the aerospace industry for its resistance to corrosion, in cemented carbide in diamond tools and in the manufacture of cutting elements.
It is also used in the production of magnets and magnetic tapes, in the ceramics and paint industry, in the electrodes of electric batteries, and as a source of ganma radiation in radiotherapy.
Mining in Cuba is considered essential for the country’s economy and since 1970, October 24 is dedicated to the sector to commemorate the nationalization of the main mining companies.