Leonardo-starrer Blood Diamond educated masses on diamond mining in the war-torn nation of Sierra Leone from the late 1990s era. The political war thriller is credited as one of the critically acclaimed cinemas of the early 2000s. But was it a movie or something like that actually existed?
With over 60% of global cobalt supply coming from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), an African nation in the amidst of civil unrest, artisanal mining operations account for around 25-30% of cobalt production in the country, which is more than 20% of the global supply of cobalt.
While artisanal mining activities are nothing to be criticised, a lot of operations under artisanal mining are performed by child workers earning less than US$1 a day, risking their lives in inhumane conditions without any safety precautions in place. In addition, more than 12 million artisanal workers across DRC are involved in extracting cobalt, exposing themselves to dangerous elements under minimum health, safety, and environment supervisions. That’s the Bloody Cobalt, we hear about.
Situations are worsening day by day with extreme losses such as death of 43 artisanal miners on 27 June 2019 in Kolwezi. While we sit on our couch chatting or shopping on our smartphones, we are indirectly and unconsciously promoting the Bloody Cobalt.
In fact, at the Mining Indaba conference, CEO of Eurasian Resources Group and co-chair of the Global Battery Alliance (GBA), Benedikt Sobotka said: “With demand for batteries expected to increase 19-fold by 2030 (GBA), the required ramp-up in cobalt production will amount to the biggest purchase order in history for the mining industry. This has to happen in a sustainable fashion meaning cobalt sourcing should not be connected to child labour, should be legal and environmentally compliant, and it should support local communities.”
While numerous leading tech companies including Google, Apple, Tesla, Dell, and Microsoft have been named in the Congolese child cobalt mining deaths, the world is calling out for clean cobalt sources to fuel batteries for the burgeoning EV sector and consumer electronics segment. We just can’t afford to fuel clean and greener cars with blood-soaked cobalt.
Let’s see what we mean by clean cobalt-
- Cobalt free of child labour
- Traceable cobalt across the value chain
- No artisanal or small-scale mining with proper HSE practices
- Sustainable cobalt mining for cleaner and greener batteries
But how to improve the current situation, given that the largest cobalt mine in the world, Mutanda operated by Glencore International has been put on hold and the suspension may extend further. With the absence of primary cobalt mines, eyes look for cobalt projects in the Tier 1 mining jurisdictions.
Cobalt Blue Holdings Limited (ASX:COB), a pure play cobalt company based out of New South Wales, is advancing on the largest greenfield cobalt mine outside Africa, Broken Hill Cobalt Project (BHCP). BHCP or Thackaringa Cobalt Project is a wholly owned cobalt project located in the matured mining environment of Broken Hill, New South Wales, with access to advanced existing regional infrastructure such as power, water, road, and rail.
Low-Cost Long-Life Large-Scale Project: Right Commodity, Right Time at the Right Place
Currently, Broken Hill Cobalt Project is under the feasibility study, likely to be finalised by Q1, 2022. The project holds more than 111 Mt of mineral resources with 79,500 tonnes of cobalt and 8.7 Mt of sulphur at a cut-off grade of 400 ppm Coeq with estimation of mineral reserves expected to be completed by Q2, 2020.
The project holds a long life of mine of 20+ years with further possibilities for extension. BHCP would produce over 3,500 tonnes of cobalt (Co) and 300,000 tonnes of elemental sulphur (S) annually, with a C1 cash cost in the range of US$10-11 per lb cobalt, placing the project in the lowest quartile of the cash cost curve.
Proprietary Technology to Produce High-Quality Battery Grade Products
Cobalt Blue secured a A$2.4 million grant from the Australian Government to promote research & development of effective beneficiation technologies extracting battery grade cobalt sulphate for the upcoming 3 years under the Cooperative Research Centre funding program. The Company has already developed a proprietary technology for processing cobalt pyrite ores and expects to use A$1.57 million from the grant towards construction of a demonstration pilot plant to further optimise the technology. The plant is expected to become operational by Q4, 2020.
Cobalt Blue seeks to successfully commercialise cobalt and elemental sulphur products through its corporate partnerships with the likes of LG International, an arm of LG Corporation, acting in cooperation with LG Chem, the world’s largest li-ion battery manufacturer, to successfully produce a commercial version of the battery grade cobalt sulphate product and with Mitsubishi for elemental sulphur.
In addition, the Company is conducting metallurgical test works, through its collaboration with Global Energy Metals Corporation and OZ Minerals Ltd (OZL). While the test work from Global Energy’s Millennium Project has already resulted in leaching extractions of 90% of cobalt, 95% of copper and an overall recovery of 90% for gold, the test work for OZL’s Carrapateena Mine is expected to be completed in May 2020.
COB traded at A$0.105 a share on 20 May 2020, with the Company boasting a market capitalisation of A$16.79 million.
With long-life, low-cost Broken Hill Cobalt Project in its portfolio, Cobalt Blue seems to be on track to provide a clean and sustainable mining solution for addressing the future demand of cobalt. Furthermore, COB is targeting on a better processing technology for use by other mining players to maximise the recovery with a higher quality cobalt product, doing its bit for a cleaner, less risky, and traceable cobalt future.