Despite Covid 19 and the difficulties it has unleashed for international trade, Cuba’s nickel production will end the year having produced 50,000 metric tons in the plants it owns in Holguin province.
Juan Ruiz Quintana, General Director of Mining at the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MINEM) spoke about the production and nickel and cobalt mining in general, as part of an interview with Prensa Latina.
Currently, Cuba is the world’s ninth-largest nickel producer, with plans to strengthen its position in the international market. The production has sourced from a plant in Moa operating as a joint enterprise with Sherritt International, a Canadian firm. It is operating at excess capacity due to the paralysis of another plant in Moa that suffers from obsolete North American technology, mostly dating from the 1950s. Large investments are being made to modernize that plant and bring it back online.
The mining concession in Moa will allow for the extraction and exportation of nickel for 17 – 20 years, at the current rate, according to Cuba’s National Office of Mineral Resources (ONRM). Cuba has additional mineral deposits, however, in Mayari, Camaguey, and Pinar del Rio, ensuring the production of nickel and Cuban cobalt for more than 50 years. Cuba is fifth in the world for nickel reserves and third for cobalt.
The San Felipe, Camagüey mineral deposits are estimated at 306 million tons, and a joint agreement was recently signed for the deposits at Cajaibana, in the western province of Pinar del Rio, to evaluate the feasibility of mining the more than 50 million tons of mineral there.
Cuba’s mineral plants are currently only extracting nickel and cobalt, but since the beginning of nickel production in Cuba more than 70 years ago, the industry’s tailings have remained which contain 45 percent iron. This constitutes raw material for steel production that has not yet been consumed because the appropriate technology is not in place. It is a planned target for investment.
On the other hand, since 1943 the bottom layer of the already exploited deposits, called saprolite, remains unmined, another essential raw material for the production of ferronickel and its use would allow for the diversification of Cuban mineral products.
The U.S. embargo/blockade continues to create negative effects among on the mining industry in the way of higher export costs, import insurance premiums and high transportation costs. The total damage amounts to $156,105,700 USD, and losses of more than $6,684,898.
In Moa alone, an investment project in ferronickel may have mineral resources for more than 50 years, along with the possibility of applying to the ONRM for mining concessions in other areas thereby extending the concession for another 50 years.
With regard to the expected market share of nickel for electric vehicles, the main application of nickel is and will continue to be the production of stainless steel and special steels, using 75 to 80 percent of the world’s primary nickel production, while the booming battery market only consumes four to five percent of the metal.
This article has been updated to include the full name of the Director General of Mining, MINEM, Juan Ruiz Quintana. We apologize for the omission.