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Cobalt refining for EV market could happen in North America soon

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What would be the only new cobalt refinery made operational outside China is on target for starting operations within a year in Ontario, Canada.

Swiss firm Blackstone Resources AG announced that the First Cobalt project has gotten positive feasibility study results for the refinery plan. The production of cobalt sulfate would be crucial to the North American electric vehicle battery market, according to reports.

cobalt sulfate

Auto manufacturers in North America have expressed the desire to source that element within the continent. However, a report from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence indicates there are no plans to commission new cobalt refineries outside of China, other than First Cobalt, according to the company’s release.

The Benchmark Mineral Intelligence report also estimates that cobalt demand from nickel-cobalt-manganese (NCM) batteries used in EVs will increase from approximately 20,000 tonnes in 2019, to over 730,000 tonnes in 2040.

First Cobalt has said it planned to begin production of refined cobalt sulfate by the start of 2021

In 2009, First Cobalt began a partnership with mining firm Glencore AG to fund the refinery project. Glencore plans to treat cobalt feed material from their operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, hoping to produce about 25,000 metric tonnes for the EV market.

The investors will spend about $56 million on the refinery, according to the release. The feasibility study estimated that the project would generate close to $37 million in pre-tax cash flow during the first full year of operation.

Blackstone Resources AG is an international mining investment firm which was started in 1995 and has operations in Chile, Peru, Germany, Colombia and Canada. It is not related to the New York-based Blackstone Group, a global private equity firm which owns Power Engineering parent company Clarion Events.

A recent forecast by ResearchandMarkets predicted that the global EV market will grow by an annual compound rate of 38 percent through 2023, reaching about $335 billion in value. An earlier report indicates that infrastructure and demand needs of the EV rise could generate close to $2 trillion in potential value for utilities.

(Rod Walton is content director for Power Engineering and POWERGEN International. He can be reached at 918-831-9177 and [email protected]).