Australia miner Independence says in talks with potential buyers of battery chemicals

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Independence Group, an Australian miner looking to move into making chemicals used in electric vehicle batteries, on Wednesday said it was in talks with a range of potential buyers of those products.

Analysts go underground at Independence Group's Nova nickel mine in Western Australia on August 4, 2018. REUTERS/Melanie Burton

The mid-tier miner trialed production of battery chemical nickel sulphate in December and January, said Chief Executive Peter Bradford, and is now set to send samples to potential customers and partners.

That comes as the firm, capitalized at A$2.7 billion ($1.93 billion), considers building a chemicals plant in the state of Western Australia, with Bradford saying it would update the market on those plans in April.

Australia is a major supplier of materials for the battery industry, tapping a boom in demand for electric vehicles.

“(Now) we can go out ... and then shortlist who may be preferred partners,” Bradford told Reuters in an interview.

Those partners could include companies that offer expertise in chemicals processing, as well as firms that commit to buy supply in return for upfront capital through offtake agreements.

“We’ve had since we started this work, some unsolicited interest coming in the front door,” Bradford said.

“As that’s come in, we have engaged with those people. In a number of those instances, we have engaged in ... confidentiality agreements.”

That comes as global miner BHP Group this year expects to bring online a 22,000-tonne a year nickel sulphate plant in Western Australia.

But such projects will face increasing competition from Indonesia, where plans for three large-scale nickel chemicals projects were announced in the last quarter of 2018.

Analysts speculate that Indonesia may win more market share given its closer proximity to Asia’s battery hubs and as technological developments and sheer volume bring down costs.

However, Bradford said he had not seen any dip in interest over the past few months.

Independence Group produced 14,428 tonne of nickel in the first-half of the financial year that began in July, around a third of BHP’s production in the same period.

Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Joseph Radford