HAVANA, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Cuba’s nickel plus cobalt sulfide production will top 50,000 tonnes this year and earnings are up over 2017, the head of the country’s state monopoly Cubaniquel was quoted by local media as stating on Wednesday.
Nickel is one of the cash-strapped Communist-run country’s most important exports, but revenue from it has suffered in recent years due to a decline in production and prices.
The country was ranked 10th in world nickel production in 2017 and fifth in cobalt.
The government forecast last year’s output at 54,500 tonnes. Business sources with knowledge of the industry said final tonnage was around 50,000 tonnes of nickel plus cobalt, of which just over 4,000 tonnes was cobalt.
Cuba does not report up to date production figures.
“This year we should produce more than 50,000 tonnes of nickel,” the director of Cubaniquel, Eder Manuel Olivero Garcel, told state-run television on Wednesday.
“The average price has been $13,300 (a tonne) in 2018, despite a recent decline, so it has been a good year in terms of price for us,” he said.
Cubaniquel is the sole operator of the Che Guevara processing plant at Moa, eastern Holguin province, and also has a joint venture with Canadian miner Sherritt International Corp at the Pedro Soto Alba plant in the same area.
The Che Guevara plant planned to produce 19,000 tonnes this year, while according to Sherritt the Pedro Soto Alba was slated to produce around 31,000 tonnes.
Cuba produced on average 74,000 tonnes of nickel plus cobalt during the first decade of this century, but the oldest of three plants was shuttered in 2012 and the Che Guevara plant has suffered from obsolescence and hurricane damage.
Nickel is used in the production of stainless steel and other corrosion-resistant alloys.
Cobalt is critical in production of super alloys used for such products as aircraft engines. Cobalt is also used in electric car batteries.
Cuba’s National Minerals Resource Center says the country has around a third of the world’s known nickel reserves.
Cuba exports the output from the Che Guevara plant mainly to China, while that of the Pedro Soto Alba plant is shipped to Canada. (Reporting by Marc Frank Editing by Frances Kerry)