First Cobalt advances Canada refinery
Tests return battery cobalt; plans not deterred by COVID-19 Metal Tech News Weekly Edition – April 1, 2020
Last updated 6/27/2020 at 5:41am
First Cobalt Corp. has taken another step on its path to becoming a North American producer of cobalt sulfate for the electric vehicle industry.
An important ingredient in the lithium-ion batteries that power EVs, cobalt has been maligned due to concerns over human rights abuses, including dangerous working conditions and child labor. These worries are primarily due to the fact that 60% of the world's cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a country considered politically and socially unstable.
Despite efforts to reduce the amount of cobalt needed in lithium-ion batteries, The World Bank estimates EVs and other low-carbon technologies will drive cobalt demand 585% higher by 2050.
This is where First Cobalt and its efforts for a North American Supply come in.
The company already owns a permitted refinery in Ontario and is working with Glencore, the world's largest cobalt producing mining company, to produce cobalt sulfate in Canada for both domestic and American EV markets.
After entering into a strategic relationship with Glencore last August, First Cobalt has been testing cobalt feedstocks for the Ontario refinery it is working towards bringing back online.
Testing completed last year showed the refinery could produce battery-grade cobalt sulfate at 99.6% purity from a batch of material supplied by Glencore.
Testing of a second batch of Glencore-supplied materials returned similar results, confirming the refinery flowsheet can process materials from various feedstocks.
"This is an excellent result. There were no surprises from this latest round of metallurgical testing and the few impurities remaining in the cobalt sulfate product were in line with expectations given the test process we followed," said First Cobalt President and CEO Trent Mell. "Once we have settled on buyers for the product, we are confident that we can make a sulfate product that will meet the quality requirements of their batteries."
A feasibility study for expanding the Ontario refinery that originally went into operation in 1996 and was shuttered in 2015 is expected to be completed at the end of April. This is one month later than anticipated due in part to COVID-19 pandemic-related work slowdowns, which impacted inflow and review of vendor quotations.
First Cobalt, however, said economic uncertainty due to COVID-19 is not expected to have a lasting impact on its strategic plans. This is largely due to the fact that the company is not relying on raising money in the equity markets to finance its refinery expansion.
"The transition from internal combustion engines to EVs will continue, with cobalt a key ingredient for the batteries we need for a clean future," said Mell. "First Cobalt's strategy and our partnership with Glencore will put us at the center of this transition for the North American and European markets."