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First Cobalt anticipates refinery restart in 2020

Cobalt processor weighs production options in reopening northeastern Ontario facility
First Cobalt refinery (Nov. 2019)
The interior of the First Cobalt refinery taken in November (Supplied)

First Cobalt expects to bring North America’s only permitted cobalt processing plant into operation in 2020.

The Toronto junior miner, owners of the former Yukon refinery outside the town of Cobalt, expects to wrap up two technical studies to put the mothballed facility back into production.

The company is conducting studies on two possible startup scenarios: one for a 12-tonne-per-day (tpd) operation, the other at 55 tpd.

The report for a small-scale operation is at the prefeasibility study stage. The study on the larger production option is at the feasibility stage.

First Cobalt expects both studies to be done sometime during the first quarter of 2020.

The company has extensive cobalt exploration properties nearby in northeastern Ontario but is positioning the refinery as a toll milling facility, taking in unprocessed cobalt from mining companies around the world.

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The finished cobalt sulphate product would be used in the electric vehicle battery industry.

Glencore was the first strategic partner to come to the plate with a US$5-million loan earmarked for a restart.

The facility has been on care and maintenance since 2015.

Staff from Ausenco Engineering Canada assessed the condition of the refinery’s equipment and systems.

They reported all the motors, pumps, instruments, overhead cranes, tanks, agitators, piping, electrical and refinery controls are in good working order.

Knight Piésold conducted geotechnical drilling on an 80-acre clay field next to the refinery for an expanded tailings area to support the 55-tonne-per day option.

First Cobalt is mulling over a dry stacking tailings method, which would take up a smaller environmental footprint with lower water treatment requirements.

Story Environmental is working with government regulators on the permitting side and has a baseline environmental study underway if existing permits need to be amended to accommodate a larger operation.

“The field work confirmed our view that the First Cobalt Refinery remains in good condition for a quick restart,” said First Cobalt president-CEO Trent Mell in a news release.

“Study results to date are in line with our expectations and we anticipate completing the two feasibility studies on time and under budget. With Glencore as our partner, our intention is to bring a reliable source of ethical cobalt to North America in 2020.”

Nico Paraskevas, Glencore’s head of copper and cobalt marketing, called the refinery a “strategic asset” for the North American market” and looks forward to the facility achieving its full potential.