The Cuban nickel industry is currently receiving an injection of heavy investment focused on minimizing production costs in particular through reducing energy use, in the face of international competition.
Juan Ruíz Quintana, Director General of Mining at the Cuban Energy and Mining Ministry, told CubaPlus that the sum forecast for 2016 alone was in the region of $105 million.
Work is underway at two factories located in the Moa region of the eastern province of Holguin: the Comandante Pedro Sotto Alba, operated by the joint venture Moa Nickel SA, and the Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara.
He explained that by the middle of this year, a new plant at the Pedro Sotto Alba site will be helping to meet annual demand for sulphuric acid with a 2,000 ton per day production capacity, while also reducing operational costs and increasing production of both nickel sulphur and cobalt.
The plant has lain inoperative for a number of years but will be put back into use at a cost of $190 million including credit payments.
Ruíz Quintana pointed out that the new installation would lead to savings of $1 million per week, based on present sulphuric acid production levels.
The expert also explained that steam generated by the factory will be used to produce electricity that would otherwise require burning 30,000 tons of oil, a significant further saving. He also said during the interview that modernizing the state- owned Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara nickel plant is a priority, in order to enhance industrial efficiency and above all reduce energy consumption.
Forming part of the Cubaniquel group, the plant will introduce technological changes to its energy matrix and is exploring the potential use of other fuels such as coal, coke and gas in an effort to cut costs.
Other tasks underway include the purchase of equipment and the preparation of a site for the solar homogenization and drying of the corroborated mineral.
Given that all mineral drying presently requires the burning of fossil fuels, he said that the importance of exploiting solar power to reduce moisture levels is obvious.
The General Director also announced plans for the repair of various processing plants, including the reduction ovens found at the heart of the factory. The works for which Chinese funding has been approved should be completed in 2019.
Another fundamental investment will begin in the summer of 2016. A new tailings dam at the Che Guevara plant will provide an outdoor facility to store solid waste with a high percentage of iron.
Ruíz Quintana confirmed that will be produced this reservoir is designed with the capacity to hold all the mineral waste that will produced over coming years, for the lifetime of the reserves conceded to the factory. For the first time ever, Cuba is engaged in the production of ferro-nickel through a joint venture with the Venezuelan company Ferroniquel Minera SA holding a 49% share stake.
He emphasized that the new company has been granted a 25-year mining licence that allows for a life-span extension of up to 60 years, should there be enough of the mineral in Moa and Nicaro.
He explained that once the finance for construction and assembly is made available, the Ferroniquel Minera SA investment should be carried out within three years.
According to geological estimates the archipelago of Cuba has more than one billion tons of mineral reserves that, in line with the government’s official list of investment opportunities, provide a potential opening for direct foreign investment