First Cobalt battery park concept emerges
Ontario facility could be modeled after eco-parks in Finland Metal Tech News – July 14, 2021
Last updated 7/20/2021 at 3:31pm
As First Cobalt Corp. advances the only battery-grade cobalt sulfate refinery in North America toward a 2022 start, the company is beginning to investigate the potential of developing an integrated battery park in Ontario that refines and recycles cobalt and nickel, and then upgrades these metals into the anode materials for the lithium-ion batteries needed for the massive influx of electric vehicles expected in the coming years.
First Cobalt envisions a battery park built around its refinery that would offer environmental and efficiency advantages similar to those at the Harjavalta Industrial Eco-Park in Finland, where more than five companies cooperate on refining technology metals and producing technology metal products, including the chemical products that go into batteries and EVs.
Harjavalta is one of about 20 major industrial eco-parks established in Finland. By bringing related and like-minded businesses together, these industrial sites improve profitability while reducing environmental impacts through the synergies created by sharing materials, energy, and information.
Based on the success of these eco-parks, the Finland-based Centre for Industrial Circular Economy has provided a roadmap on "How to establish an eco-industrial park."
"We hope that in the future, Finland will be known as a safe country that looks after the environment and people and a country that has the best expertise and solutions in an industrial, carbon-neutral circular economy," according to the guide written by the Circular Economy Centre with cooperation from managers of the eco-parks in Finland. "Learn from the lessons we have collected and use them as a foundation for building an eco-industrial park that is best suited for your region and that creates circular economy solutions for the entire world!"
Looking to create such a circular economy around its refinery in a silver and cobalt mining district about 85 miles (135 kilometers) northeast of Sudbury, Ontario, First Cobalt envisions producing nickel sulfate alongside the cobalt sulfate at the refinery.
Previous testing has shown that the hydrometallurgical refining process utilized at the First Cobalt refinery results in high recoveries of both cobalt and nickel from black mass – a mixture of cobalt, lithium, and nickel that is left behind after the plastics, copper, aluminum, and graphite are removed from spent lithium-ion batteries.
First Cobalt believes that an integrated refining operation that produced both nickel and cobalt from mined and recycled sources would help attract a company to complete the final chemical process of upgrading these metal sulfates into the cathode materials that go into lithium-ion batteries.
Much like the eco-industrial parks in Finland, this integrated approach is expected to lower the operating and logistics costs for all companies involved, as well as result in a smaller environmental footprint.
First Cobalt says it has entered into preliminary discussions with government officials on the concept of creating such a battery park around its Ontario refinery, which happens to be rail accessible and less than 400 miles away from the battery and EV manufacturing hub emerging around Great Lakes cities such as Detroit and Buffalo.
In the meantime, crews and contractors are working toward expanding and upgrading the First Cobalt refinery, which produced cobalt, nickel, copper, and silver products from 1996 to 2015.
"Being located in Canada's largest mining and mineral processing corridor has allowed us to build a strong project team, most of whom are local and will remain with First Cobalt through commissioning and into operations," said First Cobalt Vice President of Project Development Mark Trevisiol.
Once the upgrades are finished – expected by the end of next year – the renewed refinery will be capable of producing 25,000 metric tons of battery-grade cobalt sulfate per year, which will go a long way toward filling North American requirements.
Late last year, the provincial and federal governments announced a joint $10 million investment to help accelerate the expansion and commissioning of this critical battery metals facility.
"This is the first major battery-grade cobalt sulfate refinery to be built outside China in over 20 years, so this is not only an exciting project for us but also for the Western battery supply chain," said First Cobalt President and CEO Trent Mell. "Cobalt prices are up more than 20% over the past four weeks and we are witnessing stronger interest in offtake contracts as the battery supply chain shifts its focus from Europe to new investments in North America."