Blackstone Minerals and Korean cathode supplier in Vietnam nickel processing alliance

Blackstone Minerals EcoPro nickel share purchase agreement ASX BSX
Blackstone Minerals is partnering with EcoPro to develop a downstream nickel processing plant using output from the Ta Khoa mine in Vietnam.

Blackstone Minerals (ASX: BSX) will get a A$6.8 million injection from South Korea’s largest nickel-rich cathode materials manufacturer EcoPro as the two companies agree to work together to develop a downstream nickel processing plant in northern Vietnam.

The facility will use output from the planned revival of the Ta Khoa nickel-platinum group elements (PGE) mine in Vietnam, which has been under care and maintenance since 2016 due to falling nickel prices.

Blackstone has already begun metallurgical testing with the aim of developing a product suitable for the lithium-ion battery industry.

It will also now investigate the potential for downstream processing infrastructure in Vietnam to produce a nickel and cobalt product to supply Asia’s growing lithium-ion battery industry. Blackstone has a cobalt exploration project in Canada.

The placement to EcoPro of 40 million shares at $0.17 per share (a 62% premium to Blackstone’s last traded price) will allow the Australian company to exercise its option to purchase a 90% interest in the Ta Khoa project, which includes the Ban Phuc mine and a modern 450,000 tonnes-per-annum (tpa) processing plant.

EcoPro’s subsidiary EcoPro BM is the world’s second largest nickel-rich cathode materials manufacturer and its major customers include some of the world’s largest battery manufacturers.

Korean company alliance strengthened

Blackstone managing director Scott Williamson said the $6.8 million placement strengthened the alliance with EcoPro.

“Our Ta Khoa nickel-PGE project has the potential to deliver the critical raw materials required by EcoPro’s cathode manufacturing to meet the demand from the imminent electric vehicle revolution,” he said.

EcoPro manufactures cathode active materials and precursors used for secondary batteries. It is also engaged in lithium crushing and processing.

Mine infrastructure meets Australian standards

Blackstone is aiming to deliver a maiden resource at Ta Khoa in the third quarter.

The Ban Puc mine at the Ta Khoa project operated from 2013 until 2016. It was built to Australian standards and mined 975,000t at 2.4% nickel and 1% copper.

The existing infrastructure includes the 450,000tpa concentrator and a modern mechanised underground mine located in what Blackstone describes as a “premier nickel sulphide district”.

The previous owner invested US$136 million (A$223 million) and generated US$213 million in revenues, paying the Vietnam government US$65 million over 3.5 years at a time of falling nickel prices.

Blackstone’s other projects include the BC cobalt-gold property in British Columbia, and the Silver Swan South gold and nickel and Middle Creek gold projects in Western Australia.

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