Rio Tinto‘s Indonesian unit has been granted a mining permit for a $2bn nickel project on Sulawesi island.

Rio Tinto is the first mining company to gain investment approval under Indonesia’s new mining law, where mining permits replaced the old contract system.

The company plans to spend $2bn developing the site, which has an estimated 162 million tons of laterite nickel resources.

The Sulawesi project is expected to produce 46,000t of nickel a year by 2015, eventually rising to 100,000t a year or more, which would make the company one of the world’s largest nickel producers.

Rio Tinto spokesman Budi Irianto said the company needs separate permits from the Department of Energy and Mineral Resources and from environment and forest ministries before it starts operations, according to the Wall Street Journal.