US automaker Ford Motor has agreed to join PT Vale Indonesia and China’s Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt for the development of the $4.5bn nickel processing plant in Indonesia.

Expected to be commissioned in 2026, the Pomalaa Block High-Pressure Acid Leaching (HPAL) plant will be built in Pomalaa in South-East Sulawesi, where Vale operates the Pomalaa Block mine.

Vale and Huayou have already started early site preparations for the HPAL plant with full construction work scheduled to begin later this year.

The plant is expected to produce up to 120,000 tonnes per annum of contained nickel in the form of mixed hydroxide precipitate (MHP), a lower-cost nickel product used in the production of EV batteries.

In a statement, Ford said: “The collaboration will deliver materials essential for the auto industry’s shift to EVs, enhance Indonesia’s EV manufacturing industry and support Ford’s plan to deliver a two-million EV production run rate by the end of 2026 and further scale over time.”

The MHP produced at the HPAL plant is planned to be further processed into nickel sulphate, cobalt sulphate Li-ion battery materials, and ternary precursor cathode active materials (PCAM).

Ford Model e EV industrialisation vice-president Lisa Drake said: “This framework gives Ford direct control to source the nickel we need – in one of the industry’s lowest-cost ways – and allows us to ensure the nickel is mined in line with our company’s sustainability targets, setting the right ESG standards as we scale.”