BHP Group has produced crystals with 99.99% purity at its first Australian nickel sulphate plant located to the south of Perth in Western Australia.

The new Kwinana nickel refinery plant will help the firm take advantage of the growing demand for electric vehicle (EV) batteries.

When fully operational, the new facility is expected to have an annual production capacity of more than 100,000t of nickel sulphate, a key material used in the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries to power EVs.

BHP Nickel West Asset president Jessica Farrell said that the plant will have the capacity to produce enough premium nickel sulphate for 700,000 EV batteries annually.

Farrell added: “High quality and sustainable nickel is essential for our customers, and we expect demand for nickel in batteries will increase by 500% in the next decade.

“Our investment to upgrade the refinery to produce high purity nickel sulphate, along with nickel powder and briquettes, will enhance Nickel West’s position as a supplier of choice for the growing global electric battery market.”

The facility, which will provide 80 direct jobs as well as 400 indirect jobs, features leaching tanks, a crystalliser and dryer, purification technology, and an automated packaging system.

BHP is one of the largest producers of nickel in the world, with 85% of its nickel production targeted towards the global battery market.

Nickel drawn from its mines is processed at its Kalgoorlie nickel smelter and then transported to its nickel refinery at Kwinana to undergo refining into nickel metal, either in the form of powder or briquettes.

The nickel powder is further processed at the new sulphate plant to produce nickel sulphate, which is then exported to the global battery market from the Port of Fremantle.