Electra grows Iron Creek cobalt deposit
Initial 2021 drilling results indicate eastern growth potential Metal Tech News - May 11, 2022
Last updated 5/17/2022 at 3:02pm
With its lithium-ion battery materials park in Canada on pace to begin ramping up production in phases beginning at the end of this year, Electra Battery Materials Corp. continues to expand a cobalt deposit in Idaho that could provide the United States with an environmentally sound and socially acceptable domestic supply of this metal critical to electric vehicle batteries.
"At a time of heightened geopolitical risk, America has committed to securing a domestic supply of critical minerals for the green energy transition," said Electra Battery Materials CEO Trent Mell. "Idaho is arguably the most prospective location in the world to identify new primary sources of cobalt outside the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo)."
Located in the famed Idaho Cobalt Belt about 135 miles northeast of Boise, Electra's Iron Creek project 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.
Last year, Electra launched a two-year drill program focused on targets with the potential to double the size of this resource.
The company reports that five of the six holes drilled during the 2021 portion of this program encountered high-grade cobalt.
Initial highlights from the 2021 drilling include:
• 2.5 meters averaging 0.2% cobalt in hole IC21-04.
• 1.4 meters averaging 0.4% cobalt in hole IC21-05.
• 2.4 meters averaging 0.2% cobalt in hole IC21-05A.
These holes have extended mineralization 180 meters to the east and down-dip of the current deposit.
Results are pending for three additional holes drilled last year that cut the layer of mineralization that hosts the high-grade cobalt more than 400 meters to the east of the current resource.
"As expected, drill results on the eastern side of the deposit confirm that the mineralized system has considerable growth potential along strike and at depth," said Dan Pace, principal geologist for Electra Battery Materials.
The 2022 drill program at Iron Creek will include holes testing for thicker zones in the eastern expansion area. One hole drilled at the deposit in 2018 cut 25.7 meters of 0.35% cobalt. Such areas of thicker mineralization would quickly add to the resource and could be more efficiently mined.
This year's program will also target Ruby, a zone about a mile southeast of the Iron Creek deposit where geologists have traced strong cobalt mineralization for more than 300 meters at surface, making it an intriguing prospect for adding to the amount of cobalt identified at Iron Creek.
Iron Creek would most likely be mined from underground, which would result in a small surface footprint and minimize environmental impact. Development of such a mine would provide a North American source of cobalt that would likely be considered more reliable than DRC, which currently accounts for more than 70% of this critical battery metal.
The potential of Iron Creek has attracted the attention of the U.S. Department of Energy's Critical Materials Institute, which invested $600,000 for research into efficient and environmentally friendly techniques for recovering the critical battery metal found there.
Electra matched the DOE investment into this $1.2 million research program.
"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," Mell said upon the 2021 launch of this research project.
In parallel with Electra's battery materials park in Ontario – a refining and recycling facility powered by hydroelectricity to produce battery-grade cobalt, nickel, and other products – a mine at Iron Creek could be an important piece of establishing a reliable, environmentally sound, and socially acceptable supply of cobalt in North America.
"Electra's ultra low carbon refinery in Canada will create the first domestic supply of battery grade cobalt for EVs later this year and Idaho can become an important part of a continental EV supply chain strategy that is both in the United States' national interest and good for the environment," said Mell.
Commissioning of the cobalt refinery at the emerging Electra Battery Materials Park in Ontario is expected to begin before the end of the year and commercial production is slated for early 2023. At full capacity, this facility will be able to produce 25,000 metric tons of battery-grade cobalt sulfate, enough for the lithium-ion batteries in roughly 1.5 million EVs, per year.
In parallel, a circuit is being built alongside the cobalt refinery that will recycle lithium, nickel, cobalt, copper, and graphite from spent lithium-ion batteries.