Indonesia hopes for environmental nod soon for battery-grade nickel plants

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s coordinating minister who oversees mining said on Monday he hoped environmental impact studies for factories to produce battery-grade nickel chemicals would be completed by the end of the year.

FILE PHOTO: A worker watches as trucks load up raw nickel near Sorowako, Indonesia's Sulawesi island, January 8, 2014. REUTERS/Yusuf Ahmad/File Photo

The studies, known as AMDAL, need to be completed and approved by the environment ministry before investors can proceed, such as China’s stainless steel giant Tsingshan Group which aims to build a high-pressure acid leaching (HPAL) plant.

Asked whether the AMDAL would be issued before the end of 2019, the minister Luhut Pandjaitan said: “We hope so.”

He said investment plans for plants producing chemicals from nickel laterite were worth $3.2 billion, including the plant planned by Tsingshan and another planned by Indonesia’s Harita Group.

Pandjaitan added that some of the AMDAL studies had been carried out for around a year, but none have been approved so far.

The government was revising a rule on managing waste from HPAL plants, Pandjaitan said, saying that the aim was to have this finalised within a month.

Chinese battery firm GEM Co Ltd, one of Tsingshan’s partners, expects to start trial production at its nickel and cobalt HPAL plant in Morowali in August 2020, the company’s president said earlier this month.

Indonesia wants to become a global hub for producing and exporting electric vehicles (EVs) to Asia and beyond, starting by processing its rich supplies of nickel ore into battery chemicals before it starts building EVs.

The country will stop exporting nickel ore from January 2020, two years earlier than originally planned, in order to handle processing at home.

Pandjaitan said the government would also issue a new rule to allow the import of used lithium battery components to be recycled into a new batteries in Indonesia.

Indonesian law does not allow imports of used lithium batteries, but he said the new rule would allow imports of extracted chemical components from the used batteries.

He said the extracted chemicals could help reduce the use of nickel ores.

“That way we could be more sustainable,” he said, adding that Indonesia wants companies to start investing in lithium battery recycling.

Reporting by Wilda Asmarini; Writing by Fransiska Nangoy; Editing by Edmund Blair and Christian Schmollinger