Trafigura to hold 19% stake in New Caledonia nickel project; Tesla to source battery raw materials

Trafigura has confirmed it will hold a 19% stake in the Goro nickel mining and processing complex in the South Province of the French territory of New Caledoniia, 1,200km east of Australia.

The announcement by the Swiss trading and mining company comes alongside reports that electric vehicle car maker Tesla will source material from the mine for use in its batteries.

Trafigura is part of the Prony Resources consortium – along with managers and employees of the current operating company Vale New Caledonia (VNC) – that agreed to purchase Goro from its long-time owner, Brazilian mining/metals firm Vale, in December.

It was previously thought that Trafigura would hold a 25% interest in the mine.

Tesla’s involvement came to light in a Reuters report on Thursday, which said that text released by the selling parties cited a “technical and industrial partnership” with Tesla that would allow the US company to mine raw materials for its batteries.

“Nickel is our biggest concern for scaling lithium-ion cell production,” Tesla chief executive Elon Musk said on Twitter last week.

Tesla has been contacted for comment, but had not responded by the time of publication.

Since the sale to the consortium – which was supported by the anti-independence movement in the archipelago and the French overseas ministry – was announced last December, there have been protests over the deal by those seeking independence from France.

While Trafigura’s stake in the ownership of the mine has been changed in the final agreement of the sale, local parties will hold a 51% stake in Prony, increased from a 50% stake previously planned in the initial deal.

At $16,350 per tonne, nickel futures on the LME have dropped by 12.6% in the past two days after China’s Tsingshan Holding Group said it had signed a deal to supply battery grade nickel matte to Huayou Cobalt Co and CNGR Advanced Material Co.

“If producers can use nickel pig-iron to supply the growing electric vehicle [EV] battery market there will be less pressure on class-1 nickel going forward,” Marex Spectron analyst Anna Stablum said in a morning note on Thursday.

“We are very pleased at news of the agreement reached between the South Province and representatives of the [indpendence] movement and we salute them for the time and commitment devoted to arriving at this point,” Vale said on March 4. 

“From the day we announced our intention to leave New Caledonia, we have worked toward finding a true ‘made-in-New Caledonia’ solution that would enable the operations to continue with a sustainable path for the future, preserving jobs and delivering economic value to the country. This agreement brings us closer to that reality. Our task now is to complete any and all outstanding items to allow the transaction to formally conclude,” it added.