Idaho mine offers US cobalt, almost
Metal Tech News – October 12, 2022
Last updated 4/16/2023 at 7am
Jervois ramps up Idaho cobalt mine; concentrates must be shipped out of U.S. for refining.
The ramping up of commercial production at Jervois Global Ltd.'s Idaho Cobalt Operations mine will provide American automakers with a domestic source of a metal critical to the performance of the lithium-ion batteries going into an increasing number of electric vehicles rolling off assembly lines.
Foreseeing a sharp rise in the demand for cobalt in the United States and around the globe as automakers make the rapid transition from fossil fuel burning vehicles to electrified models, Australia-based Jervois gained ownership of the Idaho cobalt project through the 2019 buyout of Canada-based eCobalt Solutions.
Over the ensuing three years, Jervois has been readying the cobalt-rich project for commercial operations, which culminated in the official opening of the mine on Oct. 7.
This soft opening marks the start of commissioning of Idaho Cobalt Operations and the mine is expected to reach full production by the end March of next year.
Vital U.S. cobalt supply
The cobalt Jervois will be mining in the U.S. may alleviate some of the backlash automakers have received over this metal that improves the energy density and longevity of EV batteries.
One of the primary concerns is that more than 70% of the cobalt produced during 2021 came from mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a country plagued with political and social issues.
Artisanal mining in DRC has been condemned by human rights advocates due to their concerns about unsafe working conditions for the men, women, and children digging into some of the richest sources of cobalt on Earth.
It is estimated that artisanal mines, a term given to small family-scale mining operations that typically involve hand digging to extract the desired mineral, are the source of 10 to 20% of the cobalt coming out of DRC, or roughly seven to 14% of global supply.
Sourcing cobalt from an Idaho mine operated under the environmental and safety standards in the U.S. would help allay these concerns for automakers and the consumers buying their EVs.
"We're talking about building a world-class clean energy economy, and this mine, this project ... is key to that vision," Geri Richmond, undersecretary for science and innovation at the U.S. Department of Energy, told attendees of the Oct. 7 opening of the Idaho Cobalt Operations.
In-depth coverage of cobalt markets and issues can be read at Critical cobalt overshadowed by lithium in the Critical Minerals Alliances magazine published in September 2022.
Almost a U.S. supply
While the Idaho Cobalt Operation will mark the first primary cobalt mine in the U.S. – the Eagle Mine in Michigan produces cobalt as a byproduct of nickel and copper, and a company in Missouri produce cobalt from historical mine tailings – the refined cobalt automakers are seeking will not be made on American soil.
Currently, there are no cobalt refineries in the U.S., which forces Jervois to ship the concentrates it produces in Idaho outside the country to be upgraded to the cobalt products needed for lithium-ion batteries.
China currently dominates the cobalt refining business. Most of the cobalt refined in that country is imported from DRC.
Jervois, however, has its own nickel and cobalt refinery in Brazil.
Looking to become vertically integrated producers of cobalt and nickel, both of which are ingredients in lithium-ion batteries, Jervois acquired the São Miguel Paulista refinery from a Brazilian company earlier this year.
Jervois plans to initially produce 10,000 metric tons of nickel and 2,000 metric tons cobalt per year at the refinery, which is slated for a restart of operations by late 2023.
The soon-to-be cobalt miner and refiner said it is also continuing negotiations with companies that would process its Idaho cobalt concentrates in countries allied with the U.S., a priority for American automakers that want to leverage EV tax incentives for consumers that are included in the Inflation Reduction Act.
Jervois will sell the copper concentrates also produced at Idaho Cobalt Operations into North American markets.
Further information on the Inflation Reduction Act tax incentives and a call for mine permit reform to ensure a U.S. supply of metals needed to meet the criteria for those incentive can be read at Ford calls for US mine permitting reform in the September 1, 2022 edition of Metal Tech News.