Jervois halts Idaho project on weak cobalt prices

Idaho Cobalt Operations surface facilities progress. (Image courtesy of Jervois Global.)

Shares in Australian battery metals company Jervois Global (ASX: JRV) (TSX-V: JRV) cratered on Wednesday after the company announced it had halted final construction at its flagship Idaho Cobalt Operations (ICO) in the United States.

Weak cobalt prices and inflationary pressure on costs prompted the decision, said the company, sending the stock down almost 42% in Sydney to A$0.067 each. 

It noted it expected prices for the battery metal to recover over the medium term on demand from electric vehicles (EVs) makers, energy transition initiatives and demand from Western countries that value social and environmental credentials.

Jervois expects to complete construction of the full concentrator at ICO once cobalt prices recover, which it also expects will align with refining capacity in the US brought into operation by the company and/or third parties.

Cobalt is a crucial component in EV batteries and is on the US government’s critical minerals list. The Biden administration sees widespread adoption of EVs as vital part of ongoing efforts to combat climate change. As automakers gear up to achieve ambitious electrification goals, a shortage of the materials needed in batteries has become evident, sparking a global rush to secure those supplies.

Last week, the US and Canada announced that companies with critical minerals projects from both countries will be eligible this spring for financial aid from a $250 million fund.

Jervois has applied for funding from the US Department of Defence to accelerate drilling to increase the mineral resource and reserves at ICO, and to assess the construction of a US cobalt refinery.

It noted that both will proceed despite the suspension of construction at ICO, said to be the largest cobalt resource in the US.

The project was partially built when Jervois bought it in July 2019, with more than $120 million invested by the previous owners since the discovery of the cobalt deposit.

The operation would entail a 1,200 tonne per day mill and concentrator to produce separated cobalt and copper concentrates, with a gold by-product.

Jervois owns a nickel and cobalt refinery in Brazil and is talking to third parties in countries such as Canada and Australia to convert the mined material. 

About 80% of global refining is concentrated in China, but capacity is growing elsewhere, including at Finland’s giant Kokkola refinery, which Jervois bought in 2021.