First Cobalt has secured cobalt feed amounting to 90% of capacity for its First Cobalt Refinery in Ontario. The facility will be the only producer of cobalt sulphate for electric vehicle batteries in North America once the company completes a $77-million recommissioning and expansion next year.
First Cobalt supply agreements with Glencore and IXM SA (a subsidiary of China Molybdenum Co. or CMOC) will provide 4,500 tonnes of contained cobalt per year over a five-year period, starting in 2022.
The high-quality cobalt hydroxide feed from Glencore’s KCC mine and CMOC’s Tenke Fungurume mine – both located in the Democratic Republic of Congo – is expected to be sufficient to produce 22,250 tonnes per year of battery grade cobalt sulphate.
While the company has a binding supply contract with Glencore, it has only signed a memorandum of understanding with IXM; the two parties are working on a definitive contract.
The two cobalt sources will provide 90% of the plant’s feed capacity of 5,000 tonnes per year at prevailing market prices. First Cobalt plans to source the remaining 500 t/y through contract or spot market purchases.
“This is a pivotal moment for our North American cobalt refining strategy,” said Trent Mell, First Cobalt’s president and CEO, in a release. “Our globally competitive cost structure and industry-leading ESG credentials put us in a strong position for a rapidly growing EV market. With feedstock arrangements in place, we can continue to advance our vision to create a new cobalt supply chain in North America. Electric vehicle sales in Europe were up more than 100% in 2020 and the U.S. will be the next large market to take off.”
First Cobalt says it’s making progress with offtake agreements, financing for construction and permitting for the refinery, and aims to begin construction in mid-2021 with full commissioning taking place in the second half of 2022.
The cost of recommissioning and expanding the hydrometallurgical cobalt refinery to 55 t/d from 12 t/d is estimated at $77 million.
Once the work is complete, the facility in Temiskaming Shores, Ont., will be able to produce 25,000 tonnes of battery-grade cobalt sulphate per year.
To help it achieve that goal, First Cobalt received $10 million in government support in mid-December – a $5-million, interest-free loan from the federal government through the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Ontario and a $5-million grant from the provincial government through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund.