With QA/QC assessment of the equipment completed, COB expects first deliveries later this month, commissioning of the plant by the end of the June quarter and first operations in mid-2020.
Pilot plant leaching circuit equipment has been undergoing final inspection (pictured above) before shipping.
Key stepping stone
The metallurgical testing centre, a key stepping-stone on COB’s development path, will scale from an initial pilot plant operation to a larger-scale fully integrated demonstration plant.
COB expects the pilot plant to produce around 100-300 kilograms of cobalt sulphate from 90 tonnes of ore and the demonstration plant to produce 1-2 tonnes using up to 2,000 tonnes of ore.
Ore will be sourced from the company’s Broken Hill Cobalt Project (BHCP) which is west of the traditional mining centre of Broken Hill.
Data for feasibility study
Results from the testing centre will form the evidentiary basis for engineering designs and cost estimates for the BHCP Feasibility Study.
The centre will also allow COB to produce varying specifications of cobalt products, including mixed hydroxides and sulphates, for potential commercial partners.
This work forms part of COB’s two-part strategy:
- Bringing the BHCP into production; and
- Commercialisation of COB’s proprietary technology through COB Partnerships.
In a letter to shareholders, COB’s chief executive officer Joe Kaderavek said the pilot plant would be focused on testing the leaching and product recovery circuits.
In 2019, COB completed concentrate trials on 45 tonnes of ore at ALS Metallurgy.
The 7 tonnes of concentrate is now being prepared for thermal decomposition (pyrolysis) trials at ANSAC with the resulting calcine to be processed in the pilot plant in mid-2020.
Kaderavek said: “I’d like to take this opportunity to emphasise the considerable scale of this test work and the opportunities it brings.
“As part of the development stages of the BHCP, it is imperative that we reliably produce on-spec products for acceptance testing.
“This will underpin offtake negotiations and related project finance discussions.”
COB aims to deliver multiple production acceptance samples from the demonstration plant to leading battery production facilities across Asia, Europe and North America.
“Extensive acceptance testing”
The CEO said: “Global industry uptake of our test product requires such extensive acceptance testing so that our commercial product can qualify as a precursor feedstock from the outset of the BHCP operations.”
Potential commercial partners will be able to visit the project mine site as well as the demonstration plant in 2020, providing inspection of the entire BHCP production chain.
Flexible production strategy
The BHCP has a flexible production strategy aimed at taking advantage of prevailing cobalt market conditions.
By developing a process that produces a range of commercially saleable intermediate products, the project will be able to optimise its suite of products at any one time.
The BHCP refinery will produce:
- An intermediate Mixed Hydroxide Product (MHP) containing ~25% cobalt and ~2% nickel. The high cobalt to nickel ratio is unique and is likely to command a premium payable content sale price, for blending with typical nickel rich MHPs.
- A final Cobalt Sulphate will be produced from further refining the MHP. The target product specification is a >20.5% cobalt content sulphate crystal, suitable for use in cathode precursor manufacture.
Ore reserve statement
COB aims to release an updated ore reserve statement for the BHCP in mid-2020.
This will be based on the 2019 mineral resource and incorporate other modifications since the PFS, such as tailings and waste management, power supply and cost studies and updated mining schedules.
“We expect this more optimised series of studies to significantly improve the economics delivered as part of our PFS in mid-2018."
Kaderavek said: “Our target remains to produce cobalt sulphate at a cash cost of US$10/lb (C1 basis - net of by-products), which will place the project in the lowest cost quartile of cobalt projects globally.
“The concurrent timing of the ore reserve statement with the successful commissioning of the pilot plant will deliver significant project milestones.”
In his letter, the CEO also outlines progress with the company’s application for State Significant Development (SSD).
After a scoping meeting was held in early January with the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment presenting the BHCP, a formal scoping report was submitted on January 21, 2020, for assessment.
Kaderavek also addresses progress with water management, financing, Commonwealth Government Development Assistance, processing technology partnerships, commercial visits to Korea and Japan, and opportunities for Australia in the battery industry.
He said a robust global market for lithium-ion batteries was presenting Australia with a strong opportunity to develop a battery minerals mining, processing and manufacturing capability.
“Australia currently produces nine out of the 10 elements required to produce most lithium-ion battery anodes and cathodes.”
COB will play a role in this process through its work and its participation in the Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre, a joint industry/government program that seeks to address challenges and opportunities for battery industry participants.
In conclusion, Kaderavek said: “Our plans reflect a strong belief that cobalt prices will strengthen over the coming few years.
“We intend, with your support, to be well-positioned to be ready at a time the cobalt market will require the development of a major new cobalt mine, in a low political risk jurisdiction with well-established infrastructure.
“COB has a promising future with significant milestones expected to be achieved over the next couple of years.”