A new method of processing nickel ore is touted as delivering one of the greatest metallurgical breakthroughs of our time. In recognition of the unique Direct Nickel (DNi) Process, developed by Julian Malnic and the DNi team, the technology is a finalist in The Australian's Shell Innovation Awards.

The method is expected to facilitate processing of nickel bound in a common type of laterite rock. Laterite rocks, which are formed through weathering, bear most of the world's future nickel resources however up until now have been uneconomic to process using existing methods.

Most nickel is obtained from other kinds of deposits (sulphides) but these resources are fast being depleted or are too deep to mine, Julian Malnic says. “Nickel is forecast to suffer a supply shortfall from 2017.”

The awards are run by The Australian in association with Shell and the support of the federal Department of Industry. The awards are judged in five professional categories with an additional Young Innovators category.

The DNi Process is a hydrometallurgical process for nickel laterite deposits. It is believed to be the only process capable of treating the full laterite profile, from limonitic to saprolitic ores in a single flowsheet. It is a tank leach process that operates at atmospheric pressure, or with the option of mild pressure, and treats the ore at relatively low temperatures.

The leach process uses a special reagent package to liberate in 2-4 hours more than 95% of the nickel, cobalt and other metals into solution. The insoluble residue is neutralized and sent to a waste disposal facility. The solution is then sequentially processed to extract the individual metals.

“Well over half of Australia’s nickel reserves are in laterite ores,” Julian Malnic says. “Solving the processing challenge is worth billions of dollars to the Australian economy alone. It will unlock nickel supplies around the world and result in lower cost and assured long-term supply of stainless steel.”

The Shell Innovation Award is open for voting, and anyone can support this great Australian innovation by voting in the award. To support and vote, please visit here

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