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First Cobalt secures $45M financing to begin refinery recommissioning

Processing company plans to start commercial production in late 2022
First Cobalt Trent-Rickford 2

Toronto's First Cobalt has secured the US$45 million it needed to press on with a $60-million construction and recommissioning of a refinery outside the town of Cobalt.

The money is earmarked for construction involving the plant's expansion, equipment, infrastructure along with other engineering and project management costs.

The Toronto company had $15 million in the bank for the project, mainly augmented by some government funding last December, before deciding to go the debt and equity financing route with CIBC as part of its strategy to bring the former Yukon refinery back online.

First Cobalt will be North America's only producer of refined cobalt when the plant begins production in the fourth quarter of 2022. Eighty per cent of the world's cobalt processing is currently done in China with the remainder done in Finland.

With the money in hand, the company can start ordering equipment and prepare to pour concrete for an addition to the plant before the snow flies.

First Cobalt has not officially announced the start of construction but technicians have been on site this summer, inspecting the electric and water intake systems.

Built in 1996, the refinery was placed in mothballs by the previous owners in 2015. First Cobalt acquired the facility in 2017.

"With the completion of this financing, the First Cobalt project team can now accelerate long lead equipment orders for our Canadian battery materials refinery as we pursue our vision of becoming the most sustainable producer of battery materials," said company president Trent Mell in a Sept. 2 news release.

The plan is to beef up the plant's production capacity in converting unprocessed cobalt hydroxide coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo into a highly pure, battery-grade cobalt sulfate material used by manufacturers of electric vehicle batteries.

Also in the mix, is a proposed battery recycling operation on the site to recover the valuable metals inside spent batteries, known as "black mass" material.

First Cobalt wants to eventually add more more scale to their operation in looking to attract a manufacturing partner to create a value-added chemical processing step.

"Our immediate objective is to become the only producer of battery grade cobalt in North America by Q4 2022," said Mell.

"Thereafter, we intend to produce nickel, cobalt, lithium and other battery materials from recycled lithium-ion batteries. Longer term, we are pursuing the creation of a Battery Park around our low-carbon hydrometallurgical refinery, which would include nickel sulfate production from primary feeds and lithium-ion battery precursor manufacturing."