Cuba sees 2018 nickel plus cobalt output topping 50,000 tonnes

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba forecasts nickel plus cobalt sulfide production will exceed 50,000 tonnes this year even as prices rise, the head of the country’s state monopoly Cubaniquel was quoted by local media as stating on Tuesday.

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 2016 and sixth in cobalt.

The government forecast last year’s output at 54,500 tonnes, but business sources with knowledge of the industry said final tonnage was under 50,000, the lowest in decades.

Cuba does not report up to date production figures.

“Cuba estimates it will achieve a production of more than 50,000 tonnes of nickel and cobalt in 2018,” the director of Cubaniquel, Eder Manuel Olivero Garcel, was quoted by the official Cubadebate website as stating.

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 at the Pedro Soto Alba plant in the same area.

Cubadebate said the Che Guevara plant planned to produce 19,000 tonnes this year, while according to Sherritt the Pedro Soto Alba will produce between 31,500 tonnes and 32,500 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 has suffered from obsolescence and hurricane damage.

Nickel is essential 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. Prices have been rising in large part because cobalt is used in electric car batteries.

Cuban nickel is considered to be Class II with an average 90 percent nickel content.

Cuba’s National Minerals Resource Center reported that the country had around a third of the world’s known nickel reserves.

Cuba exports to China, Europe and Canada.

Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama