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Why Elon Musk is in the driver's seat for future of $5 billion Qld mine

Business

The fate of a major north Queensland metals mine in north Queensland that would generate about $5 billion in free cash flow over its 30-year life is resting on a strategy from the mercurial businessmen Elon Musk.

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The Brisbane-based Australian Mines is the owner of the Sconi metals project west of Townsville that will produce some of the key metals for the electric vehicle market, an industry that is keenly awaiting an announcement from Musk’s Tesla on September 22, its so-called Battery Day.

A host of other Queensland companies are in the race to grab market share in the emerging electric vehicle market. Among them are PPK and AnteoTech.

Australian Mines said the announcement would be critical to determining the quantum, nature and timing of global demand for electric vehicle battery materials.

The company, which has a funding agreement with the Queensland Government if it can secure an offtake deal, is negotiating with potential buyers of the materials from the nickel-scandium-cobalt project which it has predicted would generate annual pre-tax earnings of $295 million. It would  also position Queensland well in the generation of metals in high demand for rechargeable batteries and other technologies in electric vehicle manufacturing.

The announcement from Tesla is expected to showcase its roadmap for technology and is likely to heavily influence the development of battery technology, which will have implications for metal producers and the Sconi mine project.

It said the expectation was that Tesla was focussing on “nickel rich” battery technologies.

Because of that, Australian Mines has extended its offtake negotiation period.

“Discussions with multiple offtake partners have progressed to an advanced negotiation stage, including key terms such as pricing, volumes and timelines,” Australian Mines said in a business update.

Alongside those discussions, Australian Mines is also talking with financiers.

It said it was also now investigating the potential production of manganese sulphates along with “battery-ready” nickel sulphates, cobalt sulphates and scandium oxide which would then position the company as a producer of the “full suite” of materials widely used in the electric vehicle market.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted negotiations through travel restrictions as well as work on expanding the resource at Sconi.

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