Cobalt Blue Holdings Ltd (ASX:COB) (OTCMKTS:CBBHF) (FRA:COH) is developing the Broken Hill Cobalt Project (BHCP) in far west New South Wales as an exciting new advance for ethical investment and a positive environmental and principled supply solution for cobalt, a metal integral to the world’s sustainable future.
The company’s consulting geologist Dr Ian Pringle explains why the BHCP will be a game-changer in this regard for the cobalt industry.
Our expanding digital and electronic society is infected by the misery of thousands of children labouring as slaves at cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a central African nation where mining (mostly copper and cobalt) contributes 95% of export revenue.
Cobalt and copper compounds are used in almost every lithium-ion rechargeable device on the planet from smartphones to tablets to laptops to electric vehicles.
Cobalt is extensively used in super alloys, vital for almost all high-temperature and extreme pressure applications - in particular, wind power generation, aeronautical and travel industries.
Sending an email, browsing the internet, checking social media, travelling by car, aircraft or spaceship will almost certainly depend on cobalt and it is likely that some of the metal has been collected by destitute children living and working under appalling conditions.
Unlike copper, a metal widely distributed in large deposits around the globe, more than 65% of the world’s cobalt is mined in the DRC and the World Bank predicts this will be 73% by 2023.
At least 20% of DRC cobalt production is from unregulated and polluting artisanal mines using oppressed labour. The remainder is produced from mechanised mines that are typically operated by foreign companies – in particular from China.
Chinese companies account for more than 37% of global mine supply. Additionally, they also dominate purchase of cobalt ore from DRC artisanal miners which they use to process and manufacture components in China and sell to manufacturers and consumer companies across the world.
Mining and commodities marketing company Glencore commands over 18% of world cobalt output and is the largest western cobalt miner in the DRC.
Glencore disclosed in June 2020 that it is under criminal investigation by Switzerland's attorney general in connection with alleged corruption in the African nation.
About the same time, Tesla, one of the world’s most prominent electric vehicle manufacturers reached agreement with Glencore to supply 6,000 tonnes of cobalt of each year for new Tesla batteries.
All major electronics and automobile manufacturers, including Tesla, assert they will not abide unethical labour in their cobalt supply chain, but few have devoted sufficient resources or effort to totally address the unsavoury legacy of the cobalt they use.
An ethical solution
Australia’s Broken Hill Cobalt Project offers a secure, transparent and ethical source for cobalt supply. Importantly, when it is completed in the next few years, the BHCP will be very different from the cobalt mines in the DRC. The project will use proprietary extraction processes to extract cobalt from pyrite.
Owner of the BHCP, Cobalt Blue Holdings, is planning to produce around 4,000 tonnes of battery-ready cobalt each year over a project life of more than 20 years.
The BHCP is being developed with a sustainability focus - as a small mine with a restricted environmental footprint. It is one of the largest cobalt projects outside Africa and as a primary cobalt producer, it will have no peers. Located beside road and rail, 25 kilometres from Broken Hill, the BHCP can source experienced local workers and well-equipped mining services.
By using modern, worker-friendly practises, electrified mine vehicles and eco-friendly processing, the BHCP will supply cobalt compounds without employing the corrupt and inhumane conditions or the environmental contamination typical of many artisanal cobalt mines in the DRC.
As an important by-product, the BHCP will also produce sulphur, a critical material used in the production of phosphate fertilisers. More than 300,000 tonnes of elemental sulphur will be produced each year and this will be in a form that can be safely transported, stored and used in the manufacture of phosphate fertilisers.
Central Australia contains huge undeveloped phosphate resources which, when developed, will be an important contribution to agricultural productivity in third world countries. BHCP’s future elemental sulphur supply will be an essential catalyst for environment-friendly development of these deposits.
COB is building a pilot plant, planned for completion in late 2020 and will upgrade this to a larger scale, fully integrated demonstration facility which will be capable of continuous processing of several thousand tonnes of ore.
The BHCP will enable cobalt production without the devastating social and environmental consequences of the artisanal mines in central Africa. The Australian project will also act as a model for eco-friendly and sustainable cobalt production which can be applied in the DRC and elsewhere.
For further information on the BHCP please visit the Cobalt Blue Holdings website at www.cobaltblueholdings.com.