This two-part strategy has been developed by the pure-play cobalt company which has recently secured 100% ownership of the BHCP, which is just outside the traditional mining centre of Broken Hill.
Chief executive officer Joe Kaderavek explains the key aspects of the strategy to Proactive.
PROACTIVE: Can you articulate the Cobalt Blue Holdings (COB) strategy?
CEO: COB has a two-part strategy:
- Bringing the BHCP into production; and
- Commercialisation of COB’s proprietary technology through COB Partnerships
With regards to our second aim, COB is examining opportunities to apply the technology to third-party cobalt/copper resources. There are two third-party test work programs underway:
- Millennium Project (100% Global Energy Metals Corporation - CVE:GEMX) - Cloncurry district, North Queensland. COB is focused on the extraction of cobalt, copper and gold. This is an exciting opportunity as we are dealing with Mt Isa style mineralisation over a very large district. Positive test results will unlock a new territory for our technology, with final results expected shortly.
- Carrapateena Mine (100% OZ Minerals Ltd - ASX:OZL). OZL has recently brought Carrapateena into operation to produce copper concentrates. OZL has engaged COB to evaluate the treatment of a secondary pyrite concentrate using the COB technology for recovery of cobalt sulphate (along with copper and gold). The test work program is expected to conclude by the end of May.
Why is the investment in a pilot and then demonstration plant so important?
CEO: A key stepping-stone on our development path is to build a metallurgical testing centre in Broken Hill. This centre will scale from an initial Pilot Plant operation producing ~100-300 kilograms of cobalt sulphate from 90 tonnes of ore and we expect commissioning in late Q2 with first operations mid-year.
This facility will then be upgraded to a larger-scale fully integrated Demonstration Plant, producing 1-2 tonnes of cobalt sulphate, by year-end.
The Demonstration Plant is aiming to deliver multiple production samples to leading battery facilities across Asia, Europe and North America.
Global industry uptake of our product requires extensive acceptance testing so that our commercial product can qualify as a precursor feedstock from the outset of 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 production chain.
What do you mean by ‘flexible production’ at BHCP?
CEO: In order to take advantage of prevailing cobalt market conditions, the BHCP has a ‘flexible production’ strategy. By developing a process that produces a range of commercially saleable products, the project will be able to optimise its suite of products at any one time. In simple terms – ‘Capture the maximum cobalt margin across the price cycle’ for our shareholders.
The BHCP refinery will therefore 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.
COB is involved in various Federal Government initiatives, from the FBI CRC and the CRC-P, can you summarise this involvement?
CEO: COB has recently joined the Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre (FBI CRC) (http://www.fbicrc.com.au/). The FBI CRC was granted A$25 million from the Australian Government and has received pledges from industry participants totalling A$100 million. COB will be taking an active role in the FBI CRC cathode precursor pilot plant, which is aiming to produce cathodes using Australian sourced raw materials (eg CoSO4.7H2O and NiSO4.6H2O)
COB has also been awarded A$2.4 million from the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) – Project Round 8 Funding from the Australian Government, for applied research and development of the processing of cobalt-pyrite ore to generate battery-ready cobalt products. We are delighted that the Australian Government is financially supporting the continued development of the technology.
Finally, we recently met with the newly established Critical Mineral Facilitation Office (CMFO) to present our project and discuss how we can we work together with the Australian Government to develop a globally significant long-life cobalt project.
What are your plans for the next 12 months?
CEO: The Pilot Plant will be in operation by mid-2020, with first commercial samples being shipped globally to partners for acceptance testing. This represents a substantial introduction of our project to the world’s battery makers.
COB is simultaneously aiming to release an updated ore reserve statement in mid-2020. We expect this more optimised series of studies to significantly improve project economics.
Our target remains to produce cobalt sulphate at a cash cost of US$10/lb (C1 basis - net of by-products). This will place the project in the lowest cost quartile of cobalt projects globally.
By year-end, we expect to complete the larger scale Demonstration Plant and ship much larger-scale product (battery production test samples). Battery makers will then be able to manufacture a custom EV battery.
These test batteries will be used to gauge the quality of BHCP product and its fit into the EVs of tomorrow.
Imagine that, an Australian junior focused on having its cobalt products pre-accepted by global customers. This will significantly de-risk the project and incentivise commercial negotiations.
The overall development timeline to 2022:
CEO: Thanks, look forward to updating the market further.