First Cobalt expanding Idaho Belt deposit
Aims to double resource of metal critical to EV supply chains Metal Tech News – June 30, 2021
Last updated 7/6/2021 at 4:27pm
Chains are only as strong as their weakest link, and two United States federal agencies have determined that cobalt is the weak link in North America's electric vehicle supply chain.
First Cobalt Corp. is doing its part to strengthen this link by delivering the cobalt sulfate needed for the lithium-ion batteries that power EVs from its refinery in Ontario and exploring its cobalt-rich Iron Creek project in Idaho.
With the First Cobalt refinery in Canada on pace to begin delivering cobalt sulfate into North American supply chains by as early as the end of next year, the company is investing C$2.5 million (US$2 million) this year on resource expansion drilling at Iron Creek, home to one of the few primary cobalt deposits in the world.
"Cobalt demand for electric vehicles is projected to increase more than 250% by 2025 and Idaho is believed to be America's best opportunity to develop a domestic supply of this critical mineral," said First Cobalt President and CEO, Trent Mell. "With our Canadian refinery expansion underway, we are turning our attention to our flagship mineral project in Idaho."
Located in the famed Idaho Cobalt Belt about 135 miles northeast of Boise, Iron Creek currently 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.
Looking to double the size of this resource over the next two Idaho exploration seasons, First Cobalt has launched a 4,500-meter drill program that is primarily testing extensions of this deposit identified with induced polarization (IP) geophysical surveys.
This drilling got started by testing an eastern expansion area where previous drilling has encountered some of the highest-grade cobalt at the deposit.
Highlights from 2018 drilling at the east end of Iron Creek include 9.4 meters averaging 0.45% cobalt and 2.07% copper in hole ICS18-02; and 14.7 meters averaging 0.44% cobalt and 0.19% copper in ICS18-05.
Previous IP geophysical surveys have identified high chargeability zones interpreted to be a continuation of the cobalt-copper mineralization for roughly 300 meters east of the 900-meter-long Iron Creek deposit.
Similarly, a high chargeability anomaly at the western end of the Iron Creek deposit appears to represent cobalt-copper mineralization that has been offset by movement along a north-south fault that cut across the deposit. This potential western expansion area will also be tested.
First Cobalt also plans to drill Ruby, a previously undrilled zone about 1,500 meters south of Iron Creek where similar cobalt-copper mineralization has been identified on the surface.
In addition to testing the depth extension of known mineralized areas with drilling, the 2021 program at Ruby is expected to include geophysical surveys to track the potential eastern extension of mineralization toward Redcastle, another First Cobalt property adjacent to the east end of Iron Creek.
This resource expansion work aims to position Iron Creek as a domestic source of the cobalt critical to the United States.
Strengthening the weak link
Over the past two years, both the United States Geological Survey and U.S. Department of Energy have ranked cobalt as the riskiest of the battery metals and minerals.
During a 2020 assessment of 52 mineral commodities critical to America, USGS ranked cobalt No. 4 when it comes to posing the greatest supply risk for the U.S. manufacturing sector – only three of the 17 rare earth elements ranked higher.
DOE ranks cobalt even higher when it comes to EV supply chains.
"Cobalt is considered the highest material supply chain risk for electric vehicles (EVs) in the short and medium term," the energy department penned in an April report.
To help strengthen this weak link in the EV value chain, DOE's Critical Materials Institute has awarded US$600,000 for research into innovative techniques to optimize the recovery of cobalt from Iron Creek.
Being matched equally by funds from First Cobalt, this US$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.
"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," Mell said in April, when the research project was announced.
First Cobalt kicked off this research work by shipping 200-kilograms (440 lbs) of Iron Creek drill core material to the Kroll Institute for Extractive Metallurgy at the Colorado School of Mines, where a team of metallurgical experts has initialized 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 is being shipped this summer to test potential ore sorting methods.
Results from the optimized methods developed by the Colorado School of Mines team 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 DOE co-funded research have the potential to reduce costs, energy consumption, and generated waste material.
Improving the economic viability while at the same time minimizing the environmental impact of mining and mineral processing at Iron Creek could help strengthen a link in the EV supply chain important to the White House.
"The Biden administration has made several announcements that support domestic mining of critical minerals such as cobalt in order to secure and shorten America's supply chains," said Mell. "First Cobalt and our Idaho mineral assets are extremely well positioned to support the administration's ambitions in these areas."
Further information on the mining aspects of the Biden administration's efforts to secure America's supply chains can be read at White House wants new critical mining, laws in the June 9 edition of Metal Tech News.