Debunking the myths behind nickel processing in the PH

By: Marcelle P. Villegas September 18, 2023

Last year, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos Jr. said in a press con that in order to boost government revenue from existing mining operations, he wants exported ores to be processed locally. [1]

“What we would like to do is encourage that the value added [taxes] to the raw ores stay in the Philippines as much as possible. Whether there should be fiscal measures in that regard is something we have not decided on and what the levels that will be. But I think what we are trying to achieve, the desired result for all of this, is instead of exporting raw ore, we export at least partially-processed ore so that there is value added that’s left in the Philippines,” said the President in a press briefing in Mandaluyong City. [2]

The Philippines is the second top producer of nickel in the world, second to Indonesia, but we export laterite nickel to China, South Korea, and Japan for processing. In turn, if we need processed nickel (for the production of stainless steel, batteries, parts for electronics, and others), we have to buy this from them. Therefore, we spend more just to benefit from the nickel resources that originally came from the Philippines.

Thus, this justifies why the President is encouraging local processing of ores in general, not just for nickel.

However, there are many who express their concern and disagreement with the idea of having our own nickel processing plant in the Philippines due to environmental implications or other limiting factors.

To bring light to the matter, we interviewed seasoned Australian mining executive who pioneered in eco-friendly nickel processing technology. It is called the EML Process by a Hong Kong-based company called Electric Metals Limited, with George Bujtor as one of its founder and CEO. EML Process is the first of its kind in green technology in nickel processing, and he introduced this at the Asian Nickel Conference in Indonesia last September 2019. His presentation was well received by international delegates of that conference.

About the environmental implications of nickel processing, it is common knowledge that it is harmful for the environment. However, this is where EML Process becomes a game changer.

Mr Bujtor and his team in Electric Metals Limited developed the EML Process which offers an innovative solution through an eco-friendly nickel processing method. From their technical report, it states that, “EML Process is not only simple and safe but provides an environmental solution to the laterite nickel industry hitherto much maligned for its poor environmental rehabilitation performance, excess CO2 emissions and excess waste generated. The technology has a far lower carbon footprint than any competing current technology.” [3]

Electric Metals Limited currently has a nickel processing plant and research and development lab in Leyte.

In the Philippines, Mr Bujtor is best remembered as the former CEO of Carmen Copper Corp./Atlas Consolidated Mining and Development Corporation, where he successfully raised over US$200M in bond issue for the expansion of the mine and processing operations. Before working for Atlas Mining, his first accomplishment in the Philippines is the development of the Berong Nickel mines in Palawan as CEO of Berong Nickel Corporation/Toledo Mining Corporation.

We started by asking his views on the common belief that it is difficult to compete with Indonesia for processing plants due to generally lower quality of nickel ore in the Philippines.

He replied, “Today, the Philippines exports laterite ores to China, South Korea, and Japan. Most of this laterite ore goes into nickel pig iron plants (NPI). So, if the overseas customers can produce NPI from these so called ‘lower grade export ores from the Philippines’, why cannot the same plants produce the NPI in the Philippines? Having these same plants in the Philippines saves a lot of costs by not exporting 35% water (the laterite ores exported contain about 35% water-hence called "wet").”

There is also a belief that having a nickel processing plant will require a lot of power which the Philippines does not have. Mr Bujtor debunks these notions.

“The argument about lack of power is poor. The argument stems from the basic assumption that power would come from the national grid (i.e. supplied by the Government or local power station).  No NPI plants in Indonesia (and there are over 120 plants/Lines producing NPI) are connected to the local power grid. Rather, the NPI producers in Indonesia all built their own dedicated power stations. All the process plants are located in isolated places where the ore is found. Hence, it is logical to build your own power station. The added benefit for the surrounding community is they can also get power - hence saving money for the Government.”

On a side note, the strategy of building one’s own power station is a common practice and a basic part of most major industrial operations in the Philippines and in other countries. There are private companies like GNPower Ltd. Co. who does feasibility studies on various areas of the Philippines on how a power plant can be created in that area, utilizing the available power resource (whether it is geothermal, hydropower, coal, others.) GNPower Ltd. Co. is just one of the many private companies in the Philippines who can facilitate the creation of power plants where it is needed.

With that, we talk about coal. Does the poor quality of coal available in the Philippines add a hindrance in having our own nickel processing plants locally?

Mr Bujtor stated, “The quality of the coal extracted in the Philippines is poor, but a lot of this coal is sold domestically to power stations. In the RKF (rotary kiln furnace) process to produce NPI, this coal is certainly good enough for ore drying.”

“You don't need high quality coal for ore drying in a rotary kiln. It is done in the cement industry. Furthermore, many power stations in the Philippines import coal from Indonesia. The nickel process plants can do the same-import coal from Indonesia or elsewhere.”

“Moreover, the argument that sky high electricity prices in the Philippines will prevent putting up smelting plants is wrong. All the Rotary Kiln Electric Furnace (RKEF)/smelting plants in Indonesia have built their own dedicated power stations in remote areas. The same can be done in the Philippines if the mining companies are serious. Only a ban on ore exports will lead to serious considerations for putting up process plants in the Philippines.”

But isn’t it expensive to build our own nickel processing plant in the Philippines?

“The arguments regarding high capital costs, etc. are wrong. The Chinese HPAL plants currently in operation and those planned over the next few years will replicate the success of the NPI strategy in Indonesia.”

He explained this further by comparing the capital costs and outputs of various nickel processing plants.   “Within the next two years, there will be over 7 HPAL plants in Indonesia (either operating or in construction) -- each able to produce more than 60,000 to 120,000 tpy nickel metal equivalent as MHP (Mixed Hydroxide Product) which is the precursor material for the battery sector. The Chinese can build a 60,000 tpy HPAL plant for some US$1.5 Billion -- whereas Sumitomo built the Taganito HPAL plant of 30,000 tpy nickel for over US$1.7 Billion.”

“Sumitomo led the world and Asia in HPAL technology over the last 20 years (until around 2020). In fact, the Philippines had the best operating HPAL plants in the world. Now the Chinese have totally surpassed Sumitomo and can construct a 60,000 tpy HPAL plant in two years and bring it up to full plant production within 4 to 6 months at a cost which is 50% lower than Sumitomo. That is the competition today.” 

“Unless the Philippines quickly changes its policy on ore exports, there is little hope for the nickel mining industry.”

Lastly, we asked his views about the proposed 10% export tax on the export of nickel. Many argue that this will kill the industry, but he points out that, “An export tax will not kill the Philippine mining industry. It will lead to further high grading. But more importantly, people need to recognize that the import tax/ VAT duty for laterite ore going into China is 13% of the laterite sales price. The Chinese Government receives this. What is the Philippine Government receiving on the same sales? It is currently 2% to 4% of the sales price. So, a further tax of 10% only balances the equation with what the Chinese Government receives on Filipino ores.”


Mr Bujtor 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).

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.



[1] Medenilla, Samuel P. (21 June 2022). "BBM wants processing of ores done pre-export". Business Mirror. Retrieved from -

[2] Parrocha, Azer (20 June 2022). "Marcos eyes VAT from partially-processed ore exports". Philippine News Agency. Retrieved from -


With additional resources from


Photo credits:

Nickel from periodic table –

Vector art on mining - Image by macrovector on Freepik

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