How Indonesia Beat the Philippines to Become the World’s Undisputed Nickel Pig Iron (NPI) Producer (and Likely to Replicate this as a Battery Feedstock Supplier)

by George Bujtor, Marcelle Villegas - August 21, 2021

Night cityscape in Indonesia [Photo credit: Abd Katon] 

commentary written by George Bujtor, with foreword by Marcelle Villegas

When Indonesia announced the reimposition of their nickel export ban in 2019, why were many key players in the Philippine mining industry optimistic about this? Was their optimism based on the belief that Indonesia is out of the game due to their nickel export ban? Did the Philippines really benefit from Indonesia’s export ban on laterite nickel ores?

What actually happened is that during the years when Indonesia halted their laterite nickel ore exports to the world, outsiders still got their nickel supply from Indonesia by investing in the country, thus giving them internal access to Indonesia’s nickel. This investment strategy brought a win-win situation to both Indonesia and their foreign investors. This is an angle of the Indonesian nickel export ban story which is disadvantageous to the Philippine nickel industry. But are the industry players in the Philippines aware of this?

To give an in-depth analysis on what really happened to the Philippine nickel industry while Indonesia was implementing their nickel export ban, top Australian mining executive and CEO of Electric Metals Limited, George Bujtor shares his thorough research about the matter. 

For background, George Bujtor has extensive work experience in technical, financial and commercial aspects of mining operations. He is one of the authors of a paper titled “A Guide to the Understanding of Ore Reserves Estimation”.[1] The paper was published by the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy in March 1982 and was the basis for the development of the JORC Mineral Code used worldwide today. This study is a remarkable peer-reviewed journal and significant reference of most international mining studies and academic research in relation to JORC studies and Mineral Reporting Code.[2]

His career is notable as past General Manager and Managing Director during his 22 years in Rio Tinto, Australia, and as former CEO of Aldoga Aluminium, Australia. On his first years in the Philippines, he developed the Berong Nickel mines in Palawan as CEO of Berong Nickel Corporation. Following this, he became the CEO of Carmen Copper Corporation/Atlas Mining where he successfully raised over US$200M in bond issue for the expansion of the mine and processing operations.

He held numerous Board positions and is a Fellow of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, and is a Competent Person as defined by the JORC & NI 43-101 codes (Australasian Joint Ore Reserves Committee).

Here’s an extensive report, analysis and forecast by George Bujtor about the current situation of the Philippine nickel industry.


Indonesia banned the export of laterite nickel ores in 2014 and went all out in developing its value-added nickel processing industries. In seven years, over US$30 billion has been invested into NPI (nickel pig iron) production facilities and stainless-steel plants with associated power stations, infrastructure development, industrial zone developments, skills development, employment opportunities, and so on.

Today, there are over 115 RKF plants (Rotary Kiln Electric Arc Furnaces) and 3 stainless steel plants operating in Indonesia. Yearly, these process plants convert over 50 million tonnes laterite nickel ore into approx. 800,000 tonnes nickel metal in the form of NPI, stainless steel sheet and sections, etc. The value-added nickel products generate over US$15$B billion in revenue every year, some 15 times higher than if the country exported unprocessed laterite ores.

In the same time horizon, from 2014 till today, there has been ZERO investment in value added nickel processing in the Philippines. This has resulted in a massive lost opportunity for the Philippine economy and its people. Short-term thinking, the lack of a coherent minerals policy and the lack of an ore export ban has rendered the once promising nickel industry in the Philippines irrelevant. The export of laterite ores to China will inevitably disappear as Chinese RKF plants and blast furnaces operations relocate to Indonesia for cost and environmental reasons. The Philippines will be left with abandoned mines and impoverished communities, and no stainless-steel industry.

Some pertinent questions one can ask include: Where is the development road map proposed by the Philippine Nickel Industry Association in 2019? Why is the Chamber of Mines not being proactive and pushing for in-country value added processing? Where is the Government resource policy to address the wholesale exporting of unprocessed ores? Will the Philippines ever have a stainless-steel industry?

This is a two-part series of articles on the Philippine laterite nickel Industry:

Part 1 – How Indonesia Beat the Philippines to Become the World’s Undisputed Nickel Pig Iron (NPI) Producer

Part 2 – Will the Philippines be Able to Succeed in the Battery Feedstock sector and Become a Battery Cell Producer?


Philippine Laterite Nickel/Cobalt in Perspective

The Philippines has the world’s third largest resource of nickel metal in laterite ores (~14Mt contained nickel) and the world’s fourth largest resource of cobalt metal (~1.3Mt contained cobalt):


This is an enviable position and one which should confer considerable advantages to the host country. Unfortunately, the Philippines has not capitalized on its industry leading position.

Between 2005 and 2020 inclusive, the Philippines had exported in total ~300 million tonnes of laterite ore averaging ~1.2% Ni and containing some 3.6 million tonnes contained nickel metal. Over the last five years, exports averaged ~25Mt per year laterite containing ~300,000 tpy contained nickel. Most of the laterite nickel was exported to China to feed the numerous NPI plants and blast furnaces servicing the stainless-steel industry.

As reported by the MGB, the revenue generated from the export of the ~300Mt of laterite ore amounted to approx. US$7.8B (equivalent to ~US$28/t ore). Whilst this may seem like a lot of money, it is an extremely poor return for the Philippines. Had this laterite ore been converted to NPI or stainless steel, the revenue would have been over US$65B to US$75B, some 8 to 10 times higher. Regional economic development would have been much higher, more extensive, and sustainable.

In contrast, in 2021 Indonesia is forecast to export ~800,000 tonnes contained nickel metal in NPI which is conservatively valued at ~ US$15B. This is some 10 times the value which might have been generated from the export of the ~50Mt of laterite ore.

The Philippines has always favoured the export of laterite ores over in-country processing and continues to do so. Mining companies celebrated on hearing Indonesia had banned the exports of laterite ore. However, this is all short-term thinking and does not recognizing the consequences over the medium term. The “quick” returns from the direct shipping of ore will be short lived and certainly not in the national interest. High grading of the remaining laterite deposits is just one consequence.


The Indonesian Ban on the Export of Unprocessed Ores

Indonesia introduced a ban on the export of unprocessed laterite nickel ores in 2014 after passing legislation in 2009 and providing the industry with a five-year grace period. Only Tsingshan took the Governments legislation seriously. At the time of the ban, Indonesia was exporting over 41 million tonnes laterite ore to China. The short-term pain was a silver lining in disguise.

The export ban was specifically intended to force the nickel ore miners to invest in value added processing. History shows the impact has been profound and Indonesia has emerged as the world’s dominant producer of nickel over the last 7 years. The export window opened a little in 2017 to help ore miners to raise funds to build processing plants but was firmly shut again at the end of 2019.

The impact of the export ban resulted in two investment waves. The first wave involved Chinese NPI operators relocating and ‘offshoring’ to Indonesia as shown in the chart below. Tsingshan led this first wave and is the dominant producer of NPI in Indonesia.


Today Indonesia produces more NPI than China, and by 2025 will produce ~5X the tonnage of Ni in NPI.

The offshoring of nickel plants to Indonesia is expected to continue and will result in a diminishing market for laterite ores from the Philippines. As shown, NPI production in China 

is forecast to fall to 250,000 tpy contained nickel by 2025. With NPI production costs being 30% to 40% cheaper in Indonesia, the offshoring of Chinese production plants is likely to accelerate. This is all bad news for the Philippines’ nickel export industry.

The second wave of investment involved the building out of stainless-steel plants using the hot metal feed from the NPI furnaces. This was likewise led by China’s Tsingshan. Today there are three stainless steel plants in Indonesia with further plants planned.

To date, over US$30B has been invested by mainly Chinese companies in nickel processing plants in Indonesia. In the same time horizon, there has been no investment in the Philippines. We should not be surprised. Why invest in the Philippines when laterite ore can still be easily purchased and there is no export ban?

The lack of nickel investment in the Philippines has been due to a number of factors including – failure to implement a coherent minerals policy, excuses by mining companies about the lack of electricity, most mining companies chasing the quick “buck”, “greed”, and overall lower laterite Ni grades compared to Indonesia. The Indonesia Government made the hard decisions and has been rewarded accordingly. Companies investing in Indonesia built their own power stations to underpin their operations. The same could have been done in the Philippines.


Indonesia and China now Control the Stainless-Steel Market

Indonesia and China now control the stainless-steel market and account for over 70% of worldwide stainless-steel production. This dominant position will only increase as more NPI plants and stainless-steel plants are built in Indonesia. By 2025, Indonesia and China will produce a combined annual 1.5Mt of Ni metal equivalent in NPI, amounting to >50% of worldwide primary nickel supply. This has all been on the back of the export ban of laterite ore.

Would an Ore Export Ban Today Help the Philippines Recover its Lost Position in Stainless Steel?

The answer is very simply ‘No’. The race has been run and won by Indonesia. This was all predictable many years ago especially after Indonesia banned ore exports in 2014. It is almost impossible now to entice investors into NPI/Stainless steel in the Philippines. The NPI and stainless-steel market is fully controlled by China and its large corporations. Even if the Philippines were successful, it would always be a price taker and never a price setter.

The only option available for the Philippines is to watch its laterite ore export market for NPI/Stainless steel slowly disappear. This is inevitable.

Indonesia has become the envy of many countries on its successful policy of resource nationalism. The Indonesian laterite nickel ore boom has morphed into a stainless-steel boom and may soon become a battery-materials boom.

Having lost the race for dominance in the NPI/stainless steel boom, is the Philippines positioned to take advantage of the battery-materials boom?

This and other questions will be answered in Part 2 of this series:  Will the Philippines be Able to Succeed in the Battery Feedstock sector and Become a Battery Cell Producer?






Photo credit:

Top photo - Night cityscape in Indonesia by Abd Katon, 

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Marcelle P. Villegas - October 26, 2021

PH Nickel Industry Association Launched Their SDG Report

October is United Nations Month with its main celebration last 24 October 2021. In response to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG), the Philippine Nickel Industry Association (PNIA) launched their first sustainability report to highlight the industry’s contribution and impact to local communities for 2020. They presented their report via a Zoom media launch last 20 October 2021. This online event is the 4th episode of the Nickel Initiative Webinar Series. The sustainability report is titled “Global Goals, Local Action – Sustainability as our way of life in nickel mining”. From PNIA’s press release, “The report underscores the industry’s social and economic contributions in the country consistent with the UN SDG global policy goals which are policy framework aimed at achieving sustainable living for current and future generations.” PNIA is a non-stock, non-profit association that was established in 2012. PNIA was organised “to be the single voice of the industry in championing and positioning the nickel development sector as a globally-competitive and responsible driver of inclusive and sustainable economic growth in the Philippines”. PNIA is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. October is United Nations Month with its main celebration last 24 October 2021. In response to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG), the Philippine Nickel Industry Association (PNIA) launched their first sustainability report to highlight the industry’s contribution and impact to local communities for 2020. They presented their report via a Zoom media launch last 20 October 2021. This online event is the 4th episode of the Nickel Initiative Webinar Series. The sustainability report is titled “Global Goals, Local Action – Sustainability as our way of life in nickel mining”. From PNIA’s press release, “The report underscores the industry’s social and economic contributions in the country consistent with the UN SDG global policy goals which are policy framework aimed at achieving sustainable living for current and future generations.” PNIA is a non-stock, non-profit association that was established in 2012. PNIA was organised “to be the single voice of the industry in championing and positioning the nickel development sector as a globally-competitive and responsible driver of inclusive and sustainable economic growth in the Philippines”. PNIA is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.


Philippine Resources - September 20, 2021

Global nickel production to recover by 6.8% in 2021, supported by Indonesia and the Philippines, says GlobalData

Photo credit: GlobalData Global nickel mine production is expected to grow by 6.8% to reach 2,427.4 thousand tonnes (kt) in 2021, after registering an estimated 4.2% decline to 2,272kt in 2020, owing to COVID-19-related lockdowns and restrictions, says GlobalData. The leading data and analytics company notes that output from Indonesia (+16.3%), the Philippines (+5.1%) and Brazil (+24%) will be significant contributors to the overall growth this year. In contrast, production is expected to decline in Russia (-13.8%), and South Africa (-15.8%). Vinneth Bajaj, Associate Project Manager at GlobalData, comments: “Combined production from Indonesia, the Philippines and Brazil is expected to increase from a collective 1,160kt in 2020 to 1,316.8kt in 2021 – an increase of 13.5%. The increase in production will be supported by the expansion of Indonesia’s nickel industry, the resumption of production at various mines in the Philippines and the ramp up at the Santa Rita mine in Brazil, which was previously halted in 2015. “Overall, Indonesia and the Philippines will remain as the largest sources of nickel globally. Together with Russia, New Caledonia and Australia, these five countries account for almost three-quarters of the global total.” Looking ahead, nickel production over the forecast period is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3%, to reach 2,730.6kt in 2025. Indonesia, Russia, Canada and the Philippines will be the key contributors to this growth. Combined production in these countries is expected to increase from a forecasted 1,607kt in 2021 to 1,818.4kt in 2025. Bajaj continues: “Projects with potential to commence operations during the forecast period include the Araguaia Nickel project in Brazil, which is wholly owned by Horizonte Minerals, and is currently awaiting a final investment decision (FID). The US$402.1m project will have an annual nickel production capacity of 14.5kt and is expected to commence operations in 2022. During early 2021, the project’s infrastructure including the award of construction licences for the transmission line and the water pipeline were approved by the company. Tenders for the supply of key equipment and services have been completed for approximately US$230m.” The Aquila Nickel project in Indonesia, which is wholly owned by Solway Investment Group, has obtained its regulatory approvals and permissions. The US$57m project will have an annual nickel production capacity of 16.6kt and is expected to commence operations in 2023.   Article courtesy of GlobalData


Philippine Resources - August 05, 2022


Photo Credit: Arrow Creatives Nickel Asia Corporation, the Philippines’ largest producer of lateritic nickel ore, reported a 41-percent increase in attributable net income for the first semester this year. Based on unaudited financial and operating results for the six-month period ended June 30, 2022, attributable net income increased to P3.83 billion from P2.73 billion while earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) increased by 19 percent to P6.33 billion from P5.32 billion the year prior. Despite lower ore volume sold during the period, revenues increased by 7 percent to P11.78 billion from P11.01 billion last year, owed largely to higher nickel ore prices and favorable exchange rates. NAC’s four operating mines sold a combined 6.95 million wet metric tons (WMT) of nickel ore during the first half of the year, down 16 percent from 8.30 million WMT in the same period last year. The drop in sales volume was almost in direct proportion to unrealized workable days caused by inclement weather that adversely affected the Company’s mining operations during the period. The weighted average nickel ore sales price over the first half of year 2022 rose by 18 percent to $30.03 per WMT against $25.54 per WMT in the same period last year. The Company also realized P52.56 per US dollar from these nickel ore sales, a 9-percent increase from P48.25 last year. Breaking down the ore sales, the Company exported 3.12 million WMT of saprolite and limonite ore at the average price of $42.05 per WMT during the six-month period compared to 4.55 million WMT at $37.62 per WMT in the same period last year. Likewise, the Company delivered 3.83 million WMT of limonite ore to the Coral Bay and Taganito high-pressure acid leach (HPAL) plants, the prices of which are linked to the London Metal Exchange (LME) and realized an average price of $12.52 per pound of payable nickel. This compares to 3.74 million WMT at $7.92 per pound of payable nickel in 2021. Expressed in US dollar per WMT, the average price for the deliveries to the HPAL plants were $20.23 and $10.85 in the first half of 2022 and 2021, respectively. “The first half of 2022 was not without its challenges especially for our mining operations, brought about by weather conditions at our mine sites, particularly in Surigao, and continuing lockdowns in China, our major market,” said Martin Antonio G. Zamora, President and CEO. "However, the higher LME nickel price and stronger US dollar tempered the impact on our revenues.” Owing to the higher LME nickel price during the period, NAC also recognized gains from its equity share in investments in the two HPAL plants in the combined amount of P1.09 billion against P244.1 million year-on-year. The stronger US dollar further enabled NAC to log a 353-percent hike in net foreign exchange gains from its foreign currency-denominated net financial assets to P863.5 million from P190.6 million the year prior. Total operating cash costs decreased by 2 percent year-on-year to P5.19 billion from P5.32 billion last year. On a per-WMT sold basis, total operating cash costs increased to P747 per WMT compared to P641 per WMT in 2021. For the Company’s renewable energy business, its subsidiary, Emerging Power, Inc. (EPI) energized in June 2022 another 38-megawatt (MW) solar farm in Subic, Zambales, bringing total capacity on this site to 100MW. For 2022, the Subic plant has been operating at an 18- 19% plant efficiency factor with 90% of generation contracted under power sales agreements. EPI has realized an average tariff of P4.65 per kilowatt hour. EPI has another 100MW service contract for the Subic site and will commence construction of a 68-MW farm in August. Completion is expected by the third quarter of next year. EPI was also chosen by Shell Overseas Investments B.V. to be its exclusive local partner in a solar, onshore wind, and battery storage joint venture that aims to contribute up to 3GW into the Philippines’ renewable capacity. NAC is evaluating a range of financing alternatives including accessing global debt capital markets to raise EPI’s share of the equity required for an initial 1GW target by 2028, among other uses. The Company’s strong financial position will allow it to be opportunistic in evaluating funding options that meet the primary objective of maintaining a flexible low-cost capital structure. “We remain confident that our mining and renewable energy businesses provide a solid foundation on which to realize the OneNAC Vision’s twin objectives, which is to become the premier ESG investment in the country and to be counted among the Top 25 PSE-listed companies in terms of market capitalization by 2025,” said Zamora.   Article courtesy of the Philippine Stock Exchange

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Philippine Resources - March 21, 2023

PBBM boosts transport sector thru big-ticket projects

Photo credit: Department of Transportation Several big-ticket infrastructure projects in the transportation sector have been approved or are already being implemented by the administration of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., the Department of Transportation (DOTr) reported Monday. In a statement, the DOTr said the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit Project, Davao Public Transport Modernization Project, EDSA Greenways, the Light Rail Transit Line 2 (LRT-2) West Extension, and the Light Rail Transit Line 1 (LRT-1) Cavite Extension are all ongoing as of March 9 according to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA). These projects are among the 67 infrastructure flagship projects (IFP) that have been greenlit or are already underway out of the 194 high-impact projects under Marcos’ "Build Better More" program. In the rail sector, these approved and ongoing projects include the Metro Manila Subway Phase 1, Mindanao Rail Phase 1, Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) rehabilitation, Metro Rail Transit Line 4 (MRT-4), Metro Rail Transit Line 7 (MRT-7), New Cebu International Container Port, New Manila International Airport (Bulacan International Airport), North-South Commuter Railway (NSCR), Philippine National Railways (PNR) South Long Haul, and the Subic Clark Railway. The New Dumaguete Airport Development Project (Bacong International Airport) and the Integrated Flood Resilience and Adaptation (InFRA) Phase 1 have also both been approved by NEDA, with six projects awaiting approval. Last week, the NEDA Board, led by Marcos, approved 194 high-impact priority projects with a total cost of around PHP9 trillion. The board also approved amendments to the 2013 Joint Venture guidelines to support the government’s push for more investments in the country’s infrastructure. PNR suspension Meanwhile, Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda has expressed alarm over an impending suspension of select PNR routes due to the NSCR, saying it will affect thousands of commuters, mostly students and workers. “The welfare of the riding public should always be prioritized yet it remains to be seen whether such proposed solutions would effectively and sufficiently address the riding public's urgent demands in time for the imminent suspension of the operations of the PNR,“ Legarda said in her explanatory note on Senate Resolution No. 546. The PNR plans to suspend operations of certain routes for up to five years to facilitate the faster construction of the 55-kilometer NSCR. The construction will start in May and PNR may suspend the routes between Governor Pascual in Malabon City and Calamba City in Laguna, and well as Alabang, Muntinlupa City to Calamba. The Tutuban, Manila-Alabang route will be suspended in October and will affect between 20,000 and 25-000 passengers daily. Legarda urged the Committee on Public Order, chaired by Senator Grace Poe, to look into the impending suspension and come up with alternative solutions.   Article courtesy of the Philippine News Agency


Philippine Resources - March 21, 2023

Global Ferronickel Holdings, Inc. signs purchase agreement with Baosteel Resources for 1.5 million WMT

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Philippine Resources - March 21, 2023

Celsius enters into initial binding deed and agreement with local companies to progress MCB Project

Photo: Signing of Binding Deed and Agreement (Left to right: PMR Holding Corp. President Dan Chalmers, CLA Chairman and MMCI President Atty. Julito “Sarge” Sarmiento, Sodor, Inc. President Ms. Erika Chalmers, and CLA Executive Director and MMCI Country Operations Director, Peter Hume). Celsius Resources Limited  is pleased to announce that on 17 March 2023 the Company’s wholly owned subsidiary, Makilala Holding Limited ("MHL"), entered into a binding deed with Sodor, Inc. for Sodor to acquire a 60% legal ownership in Makilala Mining Company, Inc. (“MMCI”) for consideration of PHP 300 million (approximately A$8.2 million as at the date of this announcement), on terms and conditions described in the following paragraphs. The signing of the Deed is a significant milestone as it will enable MMCI to apply for an MPSA for the MCB Project with the Philippine Government. As previously advised by the Company, under Philippine law, an MPSA must be held by a company that is at least 60% Filipino owned. In addition, the Company and its wholly owned subsidiaries MHL, MMCI, and PDEP Inc. (“PDEP”) entered into an accompanying binding letter agreement with Sodor and its affiliate PMR Holding Corp. (“PMR”) (together, the “Parties”) to agree on the timeline for, and that delivery to Sodor Inc. of share certificates representing 60% of MMCI’s outstanding shares pursuant to the Deed shall be made only after, the funding by Sodor Inc. and PMR of approximately ~US$43 million for a 30% economic interest in the MCB Project ("Funding Commitment"). 3 The MCB Project will be composed of MMCI and PDEP, both wholly owned subsidiaries of Celsius. The Parties shall rescind the Deed if Sodor and PMR are not able to provide the Funding Commitment within two years from signing, unless the period is shortened or extended by mutual agreement of the Parties. As at the date of this announcement the amount of the Funding Commitment, which is inclusive of the MMCI Consideration, is approximate as the Parties will confirm the size and timing of payment of the Funding Commitment following completion of a bankable feasibility study on the MCB Project. Provision of the Funding Commitment also remains subject to completion of negotiation and execution of binding definitive long form legal documentation. The Philippine Government has otherwise advised MMCI that it has met all of the other technical requirements to obtain the MCB Project’s required environmental and mining permits. Celsius Non-Executive Chairman and MMCI Chairman and President, Atty Julito R. Sarmiento, commented: “We are indeed honored to have Sodor Inc. as our local partner in our vision to develop the MCB Project as a model for Transformative Mining in the Philippines. Our principles and visions are aligned, which is a powerful step towards developing and operating the MCB Project in a responsible and sustainable manner benefitting both our shareholders and local stakeholders. It has always been our commitment, particularly to the Balatoc Tribal Community, that central to the mine development is cultural respect, social development, and environmental protection. Sodor Inc. shares the same commitment, and is thus a perfect partner in developing the MCB Project.”   Article courtesy of Celsius Resources. The full press release can be found HERE

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