MELBOURNE (Reuters) - BHP on Wednesday said it had received approval from the government of Western Australian to develop a nickel mine in the state that will feed its Nickel West battery chemicals business.
The Venus deposit is one of the most significant development options for Nickel West as the miner gears up to produce nickel sulphate next year to feed the burgeoning industry for electric vehicle batteries.
The global miner has been plowing investment into nickel mine development and exploration in the state to secure its own supply of the material.
"This completes all necessary approvals required for the Venus deposit, and our team ... has started developing access drives to the site," a BHP spokesman said in an emailed statement.
"Continued drilling over the coming months will better define the resource. We expect first stoping production early next year."
Stoping is the process of opening underground areas for mining by excavating ore.
Venus, discovered over six years ago, has more than 200,000 tonnes of nickel reserves and will feed the Leinster Nickel Operation mill and concentrator over the next eight years.
The miner's Perth nickel sulphate plant is expected to come online from April 2019, with capacity to produce 100,000 tonnes of nickel sulphate, accounting for some 22,000 tonnes of nickel. BHP is making plans to double capacity with a potential second-stage expansion.
Nickel is in increasingly hot demand in new battery technologies that mean cars can travel further on a single charge. Using more nickel also cuts costs by reducing the amount of expensive cobalt, a mainstay of current battery technology.
Brazilian miner Vale SA, the world's top nickel producer on Tuesday said it planned to invest $500 million in its struggling New Caledonia nickel mine given the importance of an expected surge in electric vehicle sales.
(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Joseph Radford)