Ambatovy - jointly established by Sherritt International (40%), Sumitomo (27.5%), Kores (27.5%) and SNC-Lavalin (5%) - situated in Madagascar, is among the largest mines and integrated metallurgical sites in the world, with an annual capacity of 60,000 tonnes of nickel and 5,600 tonnes of cobalt. SNC-Lavalin provided full engineering, procurement and construction management (EPCM) services for Ambatovy’s ore preparation plant, slurry transfer pumping plant, 220-kilometre slurry pipeline, process plant and refinery (including all associated utilities), tailings management facilities, access infrastructure, and port facility upgrades.
A True Mega-Project
The Ambatovy Nickel Project represents the most ambitious and complex industrial undertaking in the region’s history. A significant project management effort was required to address Ambatovy’s size, scope, remote location and technical design. SNC-Lavalin used integrated database software to coordinate international design staff, worldwide expert contractors, site contractors, site engineering and construction teams and the client’s project team. In all, over 350 purchase orders were placed, 90 construction contracts were awarded, and 5,000 pieces of mechanical equipment, and thousands of tons of bulk materials were ordered and received.
In the area of the mine, existing access roads were upgraded and extended to accommodate the high traffic expected during construction and operation. At the port site, SNC-Lavalin extended an existing jetty to accommodate additional cargo without disrupting critical petroleum deliveries, and ensuring safe unloading of potentially harmful material in the vicinity of food warehouses integral to national supply. By working closely with the offshore piling contractor and using state-of-the-art battered pile techniques, the upgrade was completed without disruption to Madagascar’s busiest and most strategic port.
To minimize the environmental footprint, visual impact and for safety reasons, a 220-km pipeline was completely buried, and designed to include a single pumping station at the mine site, thus eliminating exposed boosting stations and above ground installations. Regular pipeline condition monitoring along with a leak detection system will ensure continuous and safe operation for the full 30 years of expected mine life.
The site’s use of High Pressure Acid Leaching (HPAL) technology represented an added layer of complexity to the project, requiring special considerations for handling high pressure and high temperature slurries, as well as elaborate safety systems and detailed process and mechanical expertise.
Ambatovy was just as much a sustainability showcase as it was a world-class example of project management. Madagascar is a developing economy with a unique natural environment. As EPCM contractor and part owner of the project, SNC-Lavalin ensured that respect for Madagascar’s people and its unique ecosystems was at the forefront of any project decision that was made.
One of the project team’s first tasks was to find a way to allow the local workforce and small and medium-sized businesses to participate in the project. SNC-Lavalin introduced a Local Resource Development Initiative (LRDI™) for that purpose.
The LRDI™ program introduced a large-scale training program. Two facilities were turned into training centres where locals were taught bricklaying, formwork, rebar bending, painting and welding, in addition to receiving health and safety instruction. In all, more than 6,100 Malagasy were trained at these facilities.
The LRDI™ also helped local businesses take part in the project. Small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) in Madagascar were asked to register their interest in opportunities arising from the project, and SNC-Lavalin assisted them with tendering, works scheduling and Health, Safety and Environment management. Training and mentorship programs were also implemented on the premises of some SMMEs. Malagasy companies were hired for the execution of the earthworks, concrete, fencing and erosion control, and supplied some of the materials. This aspect of the LRDI program was then incorporated within the project as the Ambatovy Local Business Initiative (ALBI), housed in the Supply Chain Management department, which continues to support local business audit and development to this day.
Ambatovy also benefitted other local industries indirectly. The project employed 18,500 people at the peak of construction, but instead of importing food for them, SNC-Lavalin helped to develop the local agrifood market to meet that need. Mutual agreements were negotiated for the establishment of poultry abattoirs, the purchasing of bulk seeds, logistical support to transport goods to the point of sale, the development of a community- based compost manufacturing unit to improve production quality, as well as training and capacity building.