Sibanye-Stillwater to buy nickel processing in France for R1.1bn in battery metals push

SIBANYE-Stillwater has followed up a €40m (R695m) investment in lithium project Oy Keliber in Finland with an intention to buy nickel processing facilities in France for €65m (R1.1bn).

The precious metals miner said today that the acquisition of 100% of the Sandouville nickel hydrometallurgical processing facility in Normandy from French mining company Eramet was the next step in its battery metals strategy.

Neal Froneman, CEO of Sibanye-Stillwater said the transaction was an “… important step in getting further downstream exposure to the battery metals value chain.

“The Sandouville facility is ideally located close to the European end-user markets [and] will allow us to leverage our existing platinum group metals (PGMs) relationships,” he said.

The Sandouville facilities include a hydrometallurgical nickel refinery with a production capacity of 12,000 tons a year of high-purity nickel metal, 4,000 tons annually of high-purity nickel salts and solutions, and around 600 tons per annum of cobalt chloride, said Sibanye-Stillwater.

The offer to buy the facilities has been agreed with a put option entered into on conclusion of the consultation process with the works council of Eramet Sandouville. The deal is expected to close by year-end, the company said.

The Sandouville facility is situated in the industrial heart of Europe at Le Havre, France’s second largest industrial port, said Sibanye-Stillwater. It has “… strategic access to extensive logistical infrastructure including shipping, rail, and key motorways, supporting any future supply into the European end-user markets”.

Commenting on the acquisition of Oy Keliber in February, Froneman said that Europe was “… rapidly becoming a leading hub for the manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles”.

One of the reasons for Europe wanting to build its battery metals manufacturing capability is to reduce the zone’s reliance on China. Said Froneman in an interview with Mininingmx for its Mining Yearbook: “You can rest assured that the Europeans are going to become less dependent on batteries out of China.

“The Americans are going to become less dependent, and we’re just talking batteries here, out of anywhere else other than America”.

Sibanye-Stillwater said the Sandouville site was zoned for heavy industrial purposes and was “scaleable” for nickel, cobalt, and lithium battery grade products.

The transaction was “a low risk entry into the nickel beneficiation business and the initial focus will be on ramping up throughput as per the existing Eramet plans”, it said.

A scoping study had also been run by Sibanye-Stillwater assessing the feasibility of upgrading the Sandouville facilities to target specific nickel battery metal products, said the company. This would “unlock the full potential of these facilities and their location”.