Jervois delays ramp-up to capacity at US cobalt mine to Q2

Australia-based cobalt and nickel supplier Jervois Global has delayed the start of commercial production of cobalt concentrate at its mine in the US state of Idaho, it said in a quarterly update on Monday January 30

Jervois Global now expected commercial production at the Idaho Cobalt Operations (ICO) mine to start by the end of the first quarter of 2023. Previously, it had expected to start commercial production in the fourth quarter of 2022.

The ramp-up to nameplate capacity at ICO has also been delayed and will now be achieved in the second quarter, following significant productivity losses in December 2022 and January 2023.

Severe winter weather across the state of Idaho compounded a difficulty in retaining skilled labor for surface construction work ahead of plant commissioning, the company said.

The mine, located in the Salmon River mountains in Idaho, was officially opened in October 2022 and was expected to produce 2,000 tonnes per year of cobalt in concentrate.

Owing to the delays, however, the mine’s production of cobalt in concentrate in 2023 was expected to be 1,100-1,300 tonnes.

Once commercial production is under way, the mine will be the only operational primary cobalt mine in the US.

Two other active projects in the US produce cobalt as a by-product and through the processing of tailings from earlier operations. These are United States Strategic Metals, in Missouri, and Lundin Mining, in Michigan, which together have capacity for 3,000 tpy of cobalt, according to Fastmarkets’ research.

Imports of cobalt still vital for EV market

Fastmarkets’ research has estimated US demand for cobalt, for use in electric vehicle (EV) batteries, at 6,139 tonnes in 2022, so imports of cobalt would still be required for the EV sector alone, regardless of domestic output.

Other sectors in the US also require cobalt, including consumer electronics and superalloys, so the delay to commercial production at Jervois Global could result in US cobalt import figures increasing in 2023.

Because ICO is the only operational primary cobalt mine in the US, Jervois Global has the opportunity to “become the leading global supplier of responsibly sourced cobalt and nickel materials to serve both the battery and chemicals markets,” it said.

It has also restarted a project at its SMP nickel and cobalt refinery in Sao Paulo, Brazil, following a final investment decision in November 2022, it said.

Jervois holds an option to refine the cobalt concentrate produced at ICO at the Sao Paulo refinery once it is restored to operations. The first production of material from the refinery was expected at the end of the first quarter of 2024.

It added that negotiations were continuing with third-party processors in US-allied countries for the refining of ICO cobalt concentrate before production at the SMP refinery begins again.

Keep up to date with the latest news and insights on our dedicated cobalt market page.

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