Canadian Consulting Engineer

Award of Excellence Ambatovy Nickel Project

This self-sustaining nickel and cobalt mine and process plant is on the remote island of Madagascar, off the southeast coast of Africa. The Ambatovy Nickel Project represents the largest foreign investment and most ambitious and complex...

October 1, 2014   By SNC-Lavalin

This self-sustaining nickel and cobalt mine and process plant is on the remote island of Madagascar, off the southeast coast of Africa. The Ambatovy Nickel Project represents the largest foreign investment and most ambitious and complex industrial undertaking in the region’s history.

SNC-Lavalin successfully provided comprehensive engineering, procurement and construction management (EPCM) services for this US $5.3 billion project. The work included: an ore preparation plant, a slurry transfer pumping plant, a 220-km slurry pipeline, a process plant and refinery (including all associated utilities), tailings management facilities, access infrastructure, and upgrades to a port.

A significant project management effort was required to address the complexity of this project due to its size, scope, remote location and technical design. At its peak, Ambatovy employed 600 people during detail engineering, and 20,000 at site during construction.

SNC-Lavalin used integrated database software to map the sharing of work and coordination between international design staff (in Toronto and Edmonton, and Santiago, Chile), worldwide expert contractors, site contractors, the site engineering and construction team, and the client project team. There were over 350 purchase orders and 90 construction contracts, 5,000 pieces of mechanical equipment, and thousands of kilometres of bulk materials.

By project close, approximately 24,000,0000 m3 of earthworks were moved, 320,000 m3 of concrete were poured, including more than 6,000 piles, and 34,000 tonnes of steel were fabricated. Some 330 km of piping and 220 km of pipeline were assembled, and 1,700 km of cables were pulled.

Port extension complexities

An existing jetty at Madagascar’s busiest and most strategic seaport had to be extended to accommodate additional cargo. This work had to be done without disrupting the critical delivery of petroleum and while ensuring that potentially harmful material could be safely unloaded in the vicinity of vital food warehouses.

The challenge of extending the port while maintaining continuous petroleum imports was resolved by working closely with the offshore piling contractor on the sequencing of their activities. Also a temporary underwater petroleum-unloading pipeline was installed.

SNC-Lavalin undertook an advanced computer simulation to optimize the pathway of the 220-km buried pipeline through difficult terrain, assessing the fluid velocity and pressure at every point in the line. A detailed dynamic analysis ensured that no water hammer or other transient loads would jeopardize the pipeline’s integrity.

The plant introduced High Pressure Acid Leach (HPAL) technology. This necessitated special considerations for handling high pressure and high temperatures, requiring elaborate safety systems to handle hazardous materials and detailed process and mechanical expertise. A complete 3D software model of the plant proved essential, helping with inter-discipline coordination, conflict resolution and client design reviews, as well as bulk material reporting and control.

Training and support for locals

Executing the project in Madagascar, a country with little mining and industrial activity, required SNC-Lavalin to develop a comprehensive Local Resource and Development Initiative (LRDI) program. It exceeded all its objectives.

Two training centres provided basic workplace orientation and advanced training in trades and occupational health and safety to 6,100 people. The project achieved a 95 per cent placement rate of trainees.

The LRDI program supported small, medium, micro, enterprise (SMME) development with thousands of hours of training and mentorship. Over US$900 million of revenues through 700 contracts was provided to local SMMEs.

The LRDI also facilitated the local supply of food products from regional farmers and helped to create over 1,500 jobs for female workers.

Environmental protection for a sensitive environment

Given Madagascar’s unique and sensitive natural environment, environmental standards were set high. The project was designed and executed per IFC [International Finance Corporation-World Bank] standards.

Individual environmental protection plans were prepared for the mine site, the slurry pipeline, and the process plant and port facilities (including tailings management). More specific environmental management plans were developed for hazardous material handling, waste management, air, noise and soil management (erosion and sediment controls), as well as water management for the overall project.

As severe weather conditions could often halt construction, the schedule was adapted to complete most major earthworks during the dry season. In addition, the difficult nature of the soil at the process plant location required paying extensive attention to the foundation design and widespread dewatering during construction. cce

Project name: Ambatovy Nickel Project. Madagascar

Award-winning firm (engineering, procurement and construction management (EPCM) contractor): SNC-Lavalin, Toronto (Pierre Larochelle, Stephan Fiedler, Dale Clarke, Michel Turgeon, Isabelle Plante, Sami Douara, Alphonsus Kelly, Patric Mercille, Many Mangas)

Owner/client: Ambatovy

Other key players: Sandwell /Ausenco (port engineering)

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