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UPDATE 2-BHP sweetens offer for Canadian nickel miner Noront to $339 mln

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(Adds details from interview with BHP executive)

Oct 20 (Reuters) - BHP Group Ltd on Wednesday topped a takeover offer for Canadian nickel producer Noront Resources Ltd from billionaire Andrew Forrest's Wyloo Metals, as the two groups vie for greater access to the electric vehicle battery metal.

BHP, the world's biggest mining company, increased its all-cash offer to C$419.3 million ($339.1 million), or C$0.75 per share, bettering the C$0.70 per-share proposal from Wyloo that Noront backed on Monday

Wyloo, already Noront's top shareholder, this week lifted its offer from C$0.315 per share to top a C$0.55 proposal made by BHP in July.

At stake in the scramble for Noront is the Eagle's Nest nickel asset in Canada's so-called Ring of Fire, a high-grade deposit of the metal, as well as copper and palladium.

"We like the geology of the area, and Noront has the best land position in that area," Johan van Jaarsveld, BHP's chief development officer, told Reuters.

BHP gave shareholders of the Canadian firm 22 days to accept its latest offer.

The company, which earlier this year signed a deal to supply Tesla https://www.reuters.com/business/bhp-supply-nickel-tesla-australia-2021-07-21 Inc with nickel from its Australian operations, does not plan to build a Canadian smelter to process Noront's nickel and won't limit nickel sales from the project to North America, he said.

Should BHP's offer prevail, the mine would be run completely on renewable electricity, van Jaarsveld said.

"We certainly have the operating track record in nickel and the ability to build infrastructure in remote areas," he said, adding that BHP would be open to developing the asset jointly "with the right partner".

Neither privately held Wyloo nor Noront immediately responded to a request for comment.

BHP's offer requires at least 50% of Noront shareholders to tender in support, while Wyloo's offer would require a shareholder vote.

If Noront shareholders support BHP's offer, "this could all be over by mid-November," van Jaarsveld said.

($1 = 1.2365 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan and Savyata Mishra in Bengaluru, and Ernest Scheyder in Houston; Editing by Aditya Soni, Subhranshu Sahu and Jan Harvey)

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