The programme comes under the site’s competitiveness drive. It involves adapting part of the value production chain to process a new matte(1), the concentrated ore that forms the plant’s raw materials.
The Estuaire project began in 2013 and was completed in June 2017. It’s based on the upgrade of both the unit’s industrial assets and its business model. ERAMET Sandouville aims to strengthen its positions in the high-purity nickel market.
Work on changing the upstream part of the production process lasted almost a year. The plant was originally designed to handle nickel matte solely from New Caledonia. To process the new, European matte, which has a different composition, new machines had to be installed and a new production method developed by the ERAMET Groupe’s R&D teams. Logistic flows were reconfigured and treatment of co-products was organised. These transformations come with the production site’s switch to subsidiary status.
The facilities will restart and gradually ramp up until the end of the year. From 2018, the site will process 25,000 tons of matter per year to produce 13,000 tons of high-purity nickel metal, 2,300 tons of nickel content in various salts and liquids, 400 tons of cobalt and 3,000 tons of iron. At 34.5 M€, the upgrade is the biggest capital project since the site was built in 1978. A further 4.5 M€ was given over to R&D by ERAMET Research - ERAMET's research center - to adapt and fine-tune the process. The Sandouville site’s transformation took more than 11 months of work.
(1) Matte is an intermediate product. Resulting from the first melt of ore, it’s made from a mix of metals (in this example iron, copper, nickel, cobalt, gold, precious and semi-precious metals) and forms the raw material for the nickel production process.