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Engineers go to work on cobalt refinery restart

First Cobalt hires contractors to do feasibility study
First Cobalt (Yukon) refinery
First Cobalt's refinery near the town of Cobalt.

Work has begun toward restarting a mothballed cobalt processing refinery in northeastern Ontario.

First Cobalt has awarded contracts to complete a feasibility study on an expansion of the former Yukon refinery near the town of Cobalt.

Ausenco Engineering Canada of Toronto will lead the preparation of a feasibility study, due out by the first quarter of 2020. Ausenco is sending a small crew to test and inspect the equipment and systems to identify which parts need replacing and upgrading.

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Additional contracts have been awarded to SGS of Lakefield to do the advanced metallurgical test work on cobalt hydroxide and the specialty cobalt feed to be supplied by Glencore. The Sudbury nickel miner is also providing the technical support through its XPS-Expert Process Solutions subsidary.

Knight Piésold of North Bay will handle the tailings studies in support of the feasibility study.

Story Environmental is in charge all the environmental and permitting aspects of the engineering studies.

The definitive feasibility study will include a scenario for a 55-tonne-per-day restart and a prefeasibility study on a 12-tonne-per-day interim operating scenario.

Glencore AG is contributing a US$5 million loan to do advanced engineering, metallurgical testing, field work and the permitting regarding the restart of the refinery. When the feasibility study is done, Glencore is prepared to advance an additional US$40 million for the restart and refinery expansion.

"Our strategy is to work with Glencore to expand the refinery to serve the growing needs of the North American electric vehicle market," said First Cobalt president Trent Mell in a news release.

"To that end, we have partnered with a first-rate study team appropriate for the importance of the task at hand.”

First Cobalt bought the former Yukon refinery in 2017 after it had been placed on care and maintenance by the previous owners in 2015. It's the only permitted primary cobalt refinery in North America.

Though the junior miner has an extensive amount of exploration property in the northeast, First Cobalt's initial strategy is to bring the refinery online as an international toll milling plant to produce a refined cobalt product for the American electric vehicle market.