Thakadu banks on battery-driven surge in nickel demand
Finweek English|9 April 2021
Commodities entrepreneur Ruli Diseko’s company has announced the commissioning of a nickel sulphate refinery, but they are not the only ones interested in this market.
David McKay

Having taken a leap of faith in 2015, commodities entrepreneur Ruli Diseko is not going to be rushed into hasty decisions today.His Thakadu Group recently announced the commissioning of a $20m (R298m) nickel sulphate refinery, which is located on the premises of Sibanye-Stillwater’s Marikana platinum group metals (PGM) facilities, near Rustenburg in the North West province.

Nickel sulphate is a refined form of the nickel metal that is of interest to manufacturers of electric car batteries. In fact, one of Diseko’s first calls after deciding to make the investment in 2016 was to Tesla, the US carmaker. The company liked what Thakadu was hoping to offer, and it provided an early signal to Diseko that he was on the right track.

Soweto-born Diseko, a UCT commerce graduate, began working life as a commodities trader before joining Lonmin, the former PGM miner. By the time Sibanye-Stillwater concluded its all-share takeover of Lonmin in 2019, Diseko had already decided to strike out on his own, leaving Lonmin and betting all he had to finance R6m of research work by Mintek, the government-owned research institute, into what became Thakadu’s proprietary process technology.

It is handy, though, that Sibanye-Stillwater is Thakadu’s new neighbour given the mining firm’s interest in acquiring battery metals as part of its diversification plan. It makes Thakadu, via its subsidiary Thakadu Battery Materials, an obvious target for the miner.

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