Mining and commodities trader giant Glencore (LON:GLEN) is lending Canada’s First Cobalt Corp. (TSX-V:FCC) an initial $5 million to restart the company’s refinery in Ontario, which would become the only primary producer of refined cobalt for the electric vehicle (EV) market in North America.
Glencore said that once a definitive feasibility study for a planned expansion is completed, which is expected to happen in early 2020, it would invest another $40 million into recommissioning and expanding the refinery, located 600 km from the US border.
The facility has the potential to produce either a cobalt sulfate for the lithium-ion battery market or cobalt metal for the North American industrial and military applications.
Based on a study carried out by Ausenco Engineering Canada, if the First Cobalt refinery operated at 55 tpd, it could produce 5,000 tonnes a year of contained cobalt in sulfate, assuming cobalt hydroxide feed is grading 30% cobalt.
The companies are targeting first production late next year, with the planned expansion to be completed in 2021.
Canada already has other cobalt refineries, including Sherritt International’s metal facility in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, which has been in operations for more than 50 years.
The company ships refined cobalt around the world, except for the US, as the country has kept embargo restrictions on products coming from Cuba – the source of the lateritic ore used by Sherritt to produce mixed sulphides.
Prices for the battery metal have soared more than 30% since Glencore announced this month it would close its Mutanda mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the world’s largest cobalt mine, offering hope for a sector whose shares have been hit by fears over a global recession.
Oversupply and stockpiling by companies in the battery supply chain, however, had caused the metal fell to $12 a pound. In April last year, cobalt was selling for $44 a pound, its highest level in a decade.