Feb 23, 2021

Townsville skills fit the bill for TECH jobs

Townsville skills fit the bill for TECH jobs

Queensland Pacific Metals chief executive officer Stephen Grocott says former Queensland Nickel workers would have the skills to walk right into a job at the new TECH battery chemicals plant.

Townsville’s skilled workforce was among the city’s big selling points when it came to selecting a site for the plant, which will process nickel laterite ore from New Caledonia into product to feed the demand of major battery makers.

The company this week confirmed it was planning to upscale the TECH plant, and Dr Grocott said this was likely to increase the number of ongoing operational roles there from 150 to about 250.

“The pity is that we weren’t there a couple of years ago when QNI (nickel refinery) was shutting because the TECH Project would have provided an immediate employment opportunity,” he said.

Dr Grocott said the now shut down Queensland Nickel complex at its heart had been a sophisticated chemical manufacturing facility and those who worked there would have the skills needed at the TECH (Townsville Energy Chemicals Hub) project.

“And there are some of those people who would be engaged during construction,” he said.

“The plant operation starts before the plant is built in that you need people to be writing operating manuals and operating procedures, doing the programming for process control systems and setting up laboratories, etc.”

Queensland Pacific Metals this week formally committed to expanding the TECH project to process 1.2 – 1.5 million wet tonnes of ore per annum, at least twice the capacity contemplated in the pre-feasibility study.

Construction could start around April next year and first production is targeted for 2023.

Right ingredients for industry hub

Dr Grocott said he could see no reason why Townsville would not become a major hub for battery materials and other energy transition products and technology.

“Firstly the infrastructure is very good. The port is great. The roads, rail, water, electricity, gas, infrastructure is all good. The (Lansdown) Eco-Industrial Precinct that Townsville City Council has put in place and zoned heavy industrial, it’s an ideal site.

“But one of the biggest benefits is the skilled workforce, because the TECH project and other downstream manufacturing-type projects are sophisticated manufacturing facilities.

“They’re very complex operations that require highly skilled and experienced people and Townsville is blessed to have a very well-developed and skilled workforce.

Chief executive officer Stephen Grocott.

“You have the James Cook University producing high-quality graduates and there are trades and TAFE-type of training. It’s a great location.

“Then there are other industries like Sun Metals and Edify with their solar array. There are not too many places in the country where you can get those sorts of synergies. Gladstone has it. Kwinana just south of Perth has it. So Townsville is really well set up and we’re really pleased to be there.”

TECH taps power of collaboration

Queensland Pacific Metals is making the most of those synergies.

In December it announced it had entered into a Heads of Agreement with Edify Energy, which is developing a utility-scale solar and battery power station near the Lansdown Eco-Industrial Precinct.

The agreement is to mutually support the development of their respective projects and to ultimately enter into a power purchase agreement (PPA) under competitive network and electricity tariff conditions.

Queensland Pacific Metals is also working with Townsville zinc refinery operator Sun Metals to investigate the potential to sell a joint iron oxide product.

And there is a research program underway with JCU to explore commercial applications, such as engineered landfill, for the leach residue produced at the planned battery chemicals plant.

That work is hoped to see the Townsville project become the world’s first ‘zero waste’ nickel /cobalt production facility.