The concrete pour has started toward expanding and restarting a Temiskaming-area cobalt refinery that's scheduled to go back into production by the end of this year.
It's the opening moves on a highly-anticipated year of construction for Toronto-based Electra Battery Materials, an industrial proponent on the path to supply processed material to the major global automakers in electric vehicle production.
On March 22, the company provided an update on what's happening at the site located between the town of Cobalt and Haileybury in the City of Temiskaming Shores. Construction crews have started pouring the foundation for a new solvent extraction plant at the former Yukon refinery, acquired by Electra in 2017.
These are the first stages of an ambitious and four-phase build out to create a $400-$500-million battery materials industrial park in the Temiskaming district, the first of its kind in North America.
This potential manufacturing hub could create direct employment for 300.
Come 2026, the proposed complex will host cobalt and nickel sulfate production plants, a large-scale lithium-ion battery recycling facility, and a battery precursor materials plant through a partnership with another company. It's the kind of one-stop shop that, CEO Trent Mell has maintained, North American automakers want to see.
Electra has not announced any offtake agreements yet with any carmakers or their suppliers but the company fully expects to this year.
With a project price tag of $84 million, Electra maintains the project remains on budget and on schedule for a December plant commissioning.
The earthworks at the site were completed at the end of 2021. A pre-engineered building for this plant will be up by the end of April. All the equipment orders have been placed, the company said in the release.
On the technical side, Electra said brownfield mechanical equipment verification is 77 per cent complete with all major existing equipment having been tested.
The refinery's existing mechanical and electrical and instrumentation equipment have tested well with few upgrades required.
New equipment will start arriving at the site between April and June to install for a cobalt crystallizer circuit to be used produce 6,500 tonnes annually of refined cobalt.
"Our team has been focused on both the recommissioning of our existing refinery equipment and preparing the site for the construction of the new solvent extraction and crystallizer plant facilities,” said Mark Trevisiol, Electra's vice president of project development, in the release.
“These are important milestones and a credit to our project owner’s team and our consultants who continue to demonstrate a disciplined commitment to executing this project. With no lost-time incidents at site, we continue to stress our values on health and safety, which speaks to the commitment of our team to delivering the project with zero lost time incidents in parallel with being on time and on budget.”
Electra sees this project as playing a crucial middle processing part in establishing a domestic supply chain for electric vehicle manufacturing. Those supply chain pressures are expected to increase with Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the resurgence of COVID in China.
The company patted itself on the back for making an early decision to order long lead items from places deemed less likely to experience supply chain disruptions. This will keep them on their original schedule, though Electra said in its monitoring for any potential cost increases in its capital budget.
"Recent investment decisions by some of the largest players in the EV industry continue to validate our early-mover strategy," said Mell in a statement. "While our team continues to deliver on the recommissioning of the refinery, we are aggressively pursuing commercial partnerships and growth opportunities to deliver value to shareholders.”