Blackstone Minerals: Efforts to Enhance Product Value through Eco-Friendly Mining Innovations

10:04:55 AM | 6/6/2024

Blackstone Minerals has established a significant presence in Vietnam, specifically in Son La province, with an investment of tens of US$ millions allocated across many projects. In Son La, Blackstone Minerals has not only created over hundreds of job opportunities but also facilitated the development of local talent by providing training courses for highly skilled workers. The company is committed to achieving net-zero emissions and contributing to the circular economy, aiming to have a positive impact on the community and environment. These insights were shared by Ms. Tessa Kutscher, Director of HR and Corporate Culture at Blackstone Minerals, with the Vietnam Business Forum.

Company has training to ensure the health, safety and well-being of all personnel in Vietnam in compliance with Vietnamese employment regulations

Could you please tell us about the company's contributions to the socio-economic development of Son La province in recent years?

Blackstone Minerals is an Australian company and listed on the Australian Stock exchange. In Vietnam, the company is progressing the Ta Khoa Project with a vision as a future focused business that produces battery precursor products for the globally growing lithium-ion battery industry.

The Ta Khoa Project is a globally relevant, strategically located nickel sulfide mineral resource. It involves mining nickel sulfide deposits (upstream) and processing the mined ore to produce a concentrate suitable for the downstream part of the project, the refinery. This vertically integrated mining and refining business model is being developed with Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) performance integrated into our overarching Green Nickel strategy.

Over the past years, we have set the groundwork for engagement to ensure the project is mutually beneficial for Son La province as our host community and our company. We have worked hard to build relationships, invested directly into projects important to the province and community members, and supported local businesses and employment.

By prioritizing our procurement from local suppliers, we create opportunities for local businesses to grow, generate employment and stimulate economic activity within Son La Province and Vietnam.

Most of our site employees come from recognised ethnic minorities and we have training to ensure the health, safety and well-being of all personnel in Vietnam in compliance with Vietnamese employment regulations.

At COP26, Australia and Vietnam committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. The two Prime Ministers published a Joint Declaration on Practical Action to Respond to Climate Change, which encourages the development of low-emission technologies. Has the project applied new technology to Vietnam's mining industry?

At COP26, Australia and Vietnam committed to move towards net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and our Prime Ministers released a joint statement on practical climate change action, including encouraging growth in low emissions technology. Nickel is crucial to these innovative technologies, particularly to the production of batteries for the growing electric vehicle industry globally.

Our Green Nickel strategy sits at the heart of the business and sets our course. From ambition, to goal, to strategy, Green Nickel drives our focus at each stage of the development to deliver a project and a product with the highest possible ESG credentials. Through partnering with stakeholders that are aligned with our vision to produce green products for the EV market, we seek to lead the industry in producing low carbon products for our downstream partners.

In 2022 and early 2024, Australia’s Ambassadors to Vietnam visited our project locations in Son La Province. The visits included the tour of our nickel mine in Ban Phuc, where Blackstone is applying Australia’s world leading modern mining and extractive technologies, and quality control processes with high safety and good environmental stewardship.

Blackstone is playing a part in the energy transition and supporting the COP26 goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 by bringing new technology to Vietnam’s mining and refining industry, including advanced hydrometallurgical processing technology, the proposed refinery flowsheet having a lower environmental impact as well as a fully electrified mining fleet.

In its operations in Vietnam, the company is steadfast in its commitment to achieving net-zero emissions, fostering a circular economy, and creating a positive legacy for both the community and the environment. How are these commitments being actualized in the project?

To contribute to the circular economy and create a positive legacy, we are working closely with Vietnamese companies to develop opportunities to trade byproducts produced from our refinery. These byproducts can be used to produce fertilizer, detergents, construction materials and other chemical products and can be used in Vietnamese and global industries like agriculture, construction, industrial cleaning products, medical, textile, chemical, paper and glass manufacture.

As an example, we are working with Phu Minh Vina Environment and Viet Trung Refractory Material Construction to research opportunities to repurpose and trade waste material into construction material products.

Company donated more than 1,000 winter jackets for school children at Muong Khoa commune

How has the company actively participated in local social, local security, local economic activities?

The Ta Khoa project is located in an area classified as an especially difficult zone in economic and social development. That is why it is important that more than 70% of our site employees come from recognized ethnic minorities and we always source as much of our needs from local producers and companies as we can. From our first step into Vietnam in 2019, we have always supported local business in Son La and we remain committed to enriching the communities.

The Nickel Exploration and Extraction Project in Ban Phuc area and Nickel Ore Deep Processing Plant (Refinery) Project of Blackstone Minerals in Son La are among Australia's largest private investments in Vietnam. This investment also contributes to realizing commitments in the Vietnam-Australia Economic Cooperation Strengthening Strategy announced by the Prime Ministers of the two countries at COP26.

On site, we have a clinic where our medical staff provide first aid for injuries, initial consultations, treatment of simple medical complaints and follow-up. Serious illnesses are referred to government facilities while medical emergencies are stabilized at the clinic before evacuation to hospital.

We are proud that we are able to support communities with donation programs, such as medical and office equipment to district general hospitals, building and repairing roads and bridges, and purchasing more than 1,000 winter jackets for school children, to name just a few initiatives.

Is the company actively collaborating with the Son La provincial government? How would you describe the support from the government?

From our first step in Vietnam, the support from the government has been crucial for our project development. Engagement with the government helps us navigate a complex regulatory framework and maintain our social and environmental license to operate.

To facilitate permitting and licensing processes and ensure we are aligned and work together, a Permitting Steering Committee was established with key government officials from Son La Province and company representatives. Through regular dialogue, we have developed a constructive connection, demonstrating to the government our commitment to responsible mining along with discussing and resolving potential roadblocks to advancing the Ta Khoa project, including raising questions and queries, and allowing us to update the Son La authority on progress. As a result of this process, we have made significant strides in permitting.

Thank you very much!

By Duy Binh, Vietnam Business Forum