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Northeastern cobalt refiner brews up a promising batch

Shuttered refinery could be restarted in 18 months to supply U.S. electric vehicle battery market

A cobalt junior miner and processor, leaning toward restarting a northeastern Ontario refinery, received some good news.

Toronto's First Cobalt announced April 3 it has successfully produced a battery grade cobalt sulphate.

The company bought a mothballed refinery outside the town of Cobalt in 2017.

However, the testing was not done there, but at SGS Canada's labs in Lakefield, Ont. using the same process and the same equipment as at the refinery.

First Cobalt stated the high purity of their product meets the specifications of potential customers, and positions them to be the first North American producer of processed cobalt to supply battery plants in the U.S.

Restarting the mothballed refinery requires $30 million in startup money and an 18 to 24-month timeline.

With these results in hand, First Cobalt said discussions are underway with electric vehicle companies, global cobalt miners and, especially, financiers.

The company holds about 11,700 hectares of exploration property in the Cobalt. Ont. area, along with a cobalt project in Idaho, but wants to establish the refinery as a toll milling facility, capable of producing 2,000 tonnes of cobalt product annually.

Incoming raw cobalt material would come from international miners with off-take agreements struck with U.S. automotive battery manufacturers.

“Producing a battery grade cobalt sulphate is one of our most significant accomplishments as the majority of refined cobalt for the electric vehicle market is produced in Asia," said First Cobalt president-CEO Trent Mell in a news release.

"With no cobalt sulphate production in North America today, First Cobalt stands to become the first such producer for the American electric vehicle market."

In the same news release, Henrik Fisker, a First Cobalt director and the internationally renowned Danish automotive designer, stressed the North American demand for electric vehicles only figures to grow, and it's up to manufacturers in this field to source battery material by ethical means.

"The First Cobalt team is dedicated to ensuring projects maintain the highest standards of ethical mining practices and environmental protection. The restart of the First Cobalt Refinery is an important step toward producing battery materials in America with a clean record from mine to machine.”

The company issued a follow-up release on April 8 that Mell was off to China to present at the Fastmarkets MB Battery Material conference in Shanghai.

There, he’ll meet with potential investors to discuss restart scenarios with the refinery.

"Asia is the most important hub for electric vehicle investment today – China's EV sales are anticipated to grow from just over 500,000 units in 2018 to over 5 million by 20251, while North American companies such as Tesla are in the process of building new factories in Shanghai,” Mell said in statement.

“As we have now demonstrated the First Cobalt Refinery can produce battery grade material, I look forward to advancing discussing with potential partners."

The refinery has the capability of producing a cobalt sulphate for the lithium-ion battery market or cobalt metal for the aerospace industry or industrial and military applications.