First Cobalt works with DOE in Idaho
To identify innovative tech for recovering Iron Creek cobalt Metal Tech News – April 28, 2021
Last updated 4/28/2021 at 9:10am
Already positioned to be the first North American producer of the battery-grade cobalt being demanded by a rapidly growing electric vehicles market, First Cobalt Corp. has been awarded $600,000 in funding from the US Department of Energy's Critical Materials Institute for research on innovative techniques for recovering the cobalt and copper from its Iron Creek project in Idaho.
Being matched equally by funds from First Cobalt, this $1.2 million interdisciplinary research initiative is focused on identifying more efficient and environmentally friendly methods to process cobalt ore from pyrite material at Iron Creek.
"Our vision in Idaho is to build a modern underground mine operation and mineral processing facility centered on the Iron Creek cobalt-copper deposit," said First Cobalt President and CEO Trent Mell.
Situated about 140 miles northeast of Boise, the Iron Creek property covers 1,698 acres of the prolific Idaho Cobalt Belt.
According to a 2019 calculation, Iron Creek hosts 2.2 million metric tons of indicated resource averaging 0.26% (12.3 million pounds) cobalt and 0.61% (29 million lb) copper; plus 2.7 million metric tons of inferred resource averaging 0.22% (12.7 million lb) cobalt and 0.68% (40 million lb) copper.
With electric vehicles requiring roughly four times more copper than similar internal combustion models and the lithium-ion batteries powering EVs typically needing cobalt, both metals are expected to be in high demand as the world transitions to e-mobility.
Cobalt, however, is harder to come by than copper. The U.S. depends on imports for roughly 76% of its current cobalt supply and America's need for the metal is expected to more than double in the coming years. Due to these factors, the U.S. Geological Survey named cobalt among the 35 minerals, metals, and groups of elements critical to the U.S.
Using a new evaluation tool created to identify which U.S. critical mineral commodities are most at risk for supply disruptions, the USGS determined that cobalt is the fourth most at risk. Only three of the rare earth elements were considered at higher risk for potential disruption of supply.
In February, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that instructs federal agencies to conduct a 100-day review of U.S. critical mineral supply chains and determine how the government can reduce risks of disruption.
Slated to supply electric vehicle and lithium-ion battery manufacturers with 25,000 metric tons of battery-grade cobalt sulfate per year, First Cobalt's refinery in Ontario, Canada could help de-risk North American cobalt supply chains. Iron Creek, however, could offer a completely domestic source of the critical battery metal.
"To have the support of the United States government to further a national strategy of developing a domestic supply of cobalt further reinforces the First Cobalt value proposition as North America's only integrated supplier of battery materials for the electric vehicle industry," said Mell.
To optimize the recovery of cobalt from Iron Creek, First Cobalt is working with experts at the Kroll Institute for Extractive Metallurgy at the Colorado School of Mines.
This two-year project co-funded by First Cobalt and DOE Critical Minerals Institute is being led by KIEM professors Corby Anderson and Erik Spiller, who will be supervising an initial team of four graduate and undergraduate students.
First Cobalt is providing representative drill core material, as well as bulk underground samples of mineralization and host rocks from Iron Creek. The soon-to-be cobalt producing company will also provide guidance based on the preliminary mineralogical and metallurgical tests previously completed for the Idaho Cobalt Belt project.
Over 200 kilograms (440 lb) of drill core material has been shipped to the Colorado School of Mines to initialize work to further characterize the physical properties of cobalt ore to determine the range of methods that are effective for processing. A more than 2,000-kilogram (4,400 lb) bulk sample will be shipped during the summer to test ore sorting methods that potentially separate cobalt and copper ore from waste host rocks.
Results from the optimized methods will be compared to a conventional processing system First Cobalt has demonstrated to be effective for Iron Creek cobalt recovery. Improved processes developed through this program have the potential to reduce costs, energy consumption, and generated waste material –improving the economic while minimizing the environmental impact of mining and mineral processing.
In addition to the expertise brought to the project by KIEM, this collaborative effort will benefit from cutting edge technologies being brought to the table by Critical Materials Institute, a DOE Energy Innovation Hub led by Ames Laboratory that seeks to eliminate and reduce reliance on rare earth metals and other materials subject to supply chain disruptions.
"We can take advantage of new and emerging technologies that reduce waste material coming out of the mine and reduce the amount of energy required to process the ore," said Mell.
First Cobalt became a CMI team member in September of last year.