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Nyrstar swings to tomorrow’s metals

Edition 163 Hobart's Nyrstar plant.

Hobart’s Nyrstar plant will process minor metals used to make smart phones, flat screens and solar panels as part of a $52 million upgrade announced in July.

Nyrstar’s announcement came a month after another of Tasmania’s Big Picture Industries, Bell Bay Aluminium, disclosed a new power deal with Hydro Tasmania that secured its operations and opened the way for a possible expansion.

Other significant industry developments in July included:

• Huon Aquaculture opening a new $12 million Smokehouse and Product Innovation Centre at Parramatta Creek;
• ACL Bearing reopening a plant in Launceston that had been shut for a year; and
• McCain Foods Australia/New Zealand committing to a $9.5 million upgrade and expansion of its remaining Tasmanian potato-processing plant in Smithton.

Nyrstar will become the first Australian processor of such minor metals as indium and germanium in an upgrade that will secure the zinc smelter’s long-term future through diversification and will improve its environmental performance.

The Tasmanian Government has guaranteed a $29 million loan provided to the Zurich-based conglomerate by the Australian Government’s Export Finance and Insurance Corporation to part-fund the investment.

Nyrstar’s Swiss-based Chief Development Officer, Michael Morley, said: “We could not have proceeded with these investments but for the support we have from the Tasmanian Government.”

Nyrstar’s Hobart operation faces a significant impact on its supply of zinc concentrate through the impending closure of the Century mine in Queensland and has opted to switch focus to the processing of minor metals from the Americas.

Nyrstar’s Hobart Plant Manager, Richard Curtis, told The Mercury: “Now we'll be able to concentrate indium and germanium, which are metals of the future used in high-end electronics and solar equipment.

“These are metals that only exist in small quantities in the world and they’re very valuable, and most of the production comes out of Europe.

“If you’ve got an iPhone, a solar cell, a PVR (personal video recorder), or a flat-screen TV you can find those metals in small quantities in all of those devices.”

The Minister for State Growth, Matthew Groom, said the deal had secured $800 million a year in economic activity, along with 490 direct jobs and many indirect jobs.

The upgrade, which involves four different projects, will create about 125 construction jobs.

Two of the projects will increase the smelter’s capacity to treat complex concentrates.

Another will ensure environmental performance by adding a side-leech plant and the fourth involves an upgrade of handling equipment.

At Parramatta Creek, Huon Aquaculture’s $12 million Smokehouse and Product Innovation Centre has created 70 new jobs.

Chief Executive Officer of Huon Aquaculture, Peter Bender said the centre, one of the most advanced in the world, was part of a four-year, $160 million Controlled Growth Strategy which was delivering increased production capacity and efficiency, while reducing the company’s environmental footprint.

“We have always believed that Tasmanians have the skills and ability to grow an industry that leads the world in innovation and we are committed to investing in the region and the people who live here, either through direct employment or the use of Tasmanian firms,” Mr Bender said.

In Launceston, a former American customer has resurrected Tasmania’s long-running component manufacturer, ACL Bearing, which closed in the middle of last year.

The factory – once an employer of thousands – has reopened, starting with 40 new jobs.

The plant supplied Australia’s major car companies over 72 years and was Launceston’s biggest employer.

Now it has new ownership and a new name – ACL Bearings Australia – and plans to supply most of its parts to North America, with some going to European, Asian and interstate markets.

In Smithton, McCain Foods Australia/New Zealand will spend an estimated $7.9 million over two years on improving on-site storage and $1.6 million on a new packing line.

The improved storage facility will hold up to 55,000 tonnes of potatoes for processing.

The Smithton plant processes potatoes for French fries and other value-added products for Australian markets.

5 August 2015, Edition 163

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