First Cobalt decides to go big on refinery restart

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A major expansion is certainly in the cards to restart a pending refinery in northeastern Ontario that is preparing to serve the electric vehicle market.Toronto’s First Cobalt is avoiding a phased approach to reopening the plant, located outside the city of Cobalt, and instead chooses to focus its construction efforts on quadrupling production capacity.

The plant is currently configured to process 12 tonnes of cobalt sulfate per day. The expansion would bring this figure to 55 tonnes and represent 5% of the world’s cobalt refining capacity.

Through a restart study, the company has refined its processing plans and is looking for ways to reduce the costs of the US $ 56 million needed to bring the old Yukon refinery back into service as a toll processing facility. . It would process the cobalt supply to mines around the world.

The plant would convert cobalt hydroxide into a very pure battery grade cobalt sulfate material, which is used in the manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles, as well as in other industrial and consumer electrified applications.

It would be the first cobalt refinery in North America. China accounts for nearly 80% of the world’s production of refined cobalt sulfate, but U.S. electric vehicle makers want to source it closer to their manufacturing plants.

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First Cobalt acquired the plant three years ago as part of a merger deal shortly after it began staking potential cobalt land around some of the area’s old silver mines.

Last year, First Cobalt struck a five-year deal with mining giant Glencore to process the cobalt feed to its mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In return, Glencore provides all the capital necessary to re-commission and expand the facility.

The goal is to produce 25,000 tonnes of cobalt sulfate per year for the electric vehicle market.

First Cobalt considered restarting the plant as a small-scale demonstration plant, producing cobalt sulfate samples for electric vehicle manufacturers. They have now decided that it will represent several million dollars in unnecessary spending.

The refinery is located on 120 acres five kilometers from the town of Cobalt. It was first licensed in 1996 and operated by another company until 2015, producing a product of cobalt carbonate and other materials refined from nickel and silver.

First Cobalt’s strategy is to use the revenues from the refinery to explore and develop its own cobalt properties in northeastern Ontario and Idaho.

The company is seeking license modifications to store dry stack tailings on the property and perform metallurgical testing to improve cobalt recovery.

First Cobalt said it has completed an initial round of discussions to identify other potential parties who could partner with Glencore to fund the refinery’s capital needs and other external raw materials for the plant.

In its post, First Cobalt gave no clear timeline for construction and expansion. Previously, he said that if they opted for the demonstration plant first, a production restart could begin later this year or early in 2021. The expansion scenario, the company said, would not occur. probably not until the end of 2021.

“I am pleased with this result, as an on-site demonstration plant would have resulted in higher capital costs, a longer development schedule and limited benefits for the project,” said Trent Mell, President and CEO of First Cobalt, in a July 22 article. Release.

“Meanwhile, engineering optimization work has identified opportunities to reduce refinery operating costs and financing negotiations are progressing. We have received several proposals for third party funding and we will now seek to narrow the field in order to start discussions at three. with our strategic partner. “



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