Tag Archives: Battery minerals

First Cobalt edges closer to refinery restart after signing Glencore term sheet

First Cobalt Corp says it has agreed on a term sheet with Glencore that could see the First Cobalt Refinery in Ontario, Canada, recommissioned as early as next year.

The agreement outlines a non-dilutive, fully funded, phased approach to recommissioning the refinery remains subject to several conditions, First Cobalt said.

The First Cobalt Refinery is a hydrometallurgical cobalt refinery in the Canadian Cobalt Camp, a cluster that was historically mined for primarily silver, but is now being evaluated for cobalt. It is the only permitted primary cobalt refinery in North America, according to the company.

Phase 1 of this term sheet entails a $5 million loan from Glencore to support additional metallurgical testing, engineering, cost estimating, field work, and permitting associated with the recommissioning of the refinery. Within this amount is funding for a definitive feasibility study for a 55 t/d refinery expansion.

Phase 2 envisions commissioning the refinery at a feed rate of 12 t/d in 2020 to produce a battery-grade cobalt sulphate for prequalification for the electric vehicle supply chain, while Phase 3 involves an expansion of the refinery to a 55 t/d rate by 2021. This uses the current site infrastructure and buildings, and was detailed in a previous report by Ausenco, which estimated that First Cobalt could produce 5,000 t/y of contained cobalt in sulphate assuming cobalt hydroxide feed grading 30% cobalt.

The total capital investment under the three phases is estimated at around $45 million, with Phases 2 and 3 remaining subject to the findings of the studies undertaken during Phase 1, First Cobalt clarified.

Trent Mell, First Cobalt President & Chief Executive Officer, said: “Transitioning to cash flow as a North American refiner is our primary focus and today’s news demonstrates that we are moving closer to achieving that objective. Glencore has been supportive throughout the process and we look forward to working closely with their technical team on a successful execution.

“This partnership will help First Cobalt achieve its stated objective of providing ethically-sourced battery-grade cobalt for the North American electric vehicle market. An operating refinery in North America can benefit all North American cobalt projects, as it significantly reduces the capital cost of putting a new mine into production.”

The framework follows a memorandum of understanding signed by the companies back in May.

First Cobalt will also enter into a services agreement with XPS – Expert Process Solutions, a Sudbury-based metallurgical consulting, technology and testing facility affiliated with Glencore, in order to provide technical support to the First Cobalt team. A tendering process is nearing completion to designate lead third-party firms to oversee advanced metallurgical testing, the feasibility study and permitting, First Cobalt said.

Bushveld’s vanadium redox flow battery projects progress

Bushveld Minerals’ 84%-owned energy subsidiary, Bushveld Energy, says it has commissioned and completed site acceptance testing of the vanadium redox flow battery (VRFB) project with South Africa national power utility Eskom.

At completion, the unit, supplied by UniEnergy Technologies, will have a peak output of 450 kWh.

The VRFB battery commissioning with Eskom recommenced in November, with the unit passing a series of manufacturer and Eskom site acceptance tests during January and February.

Subsequent to this, the manufacturer recommended a set of upgrades to the VRFB, at its own cost. Bushveld said: “These are based on field experience from other operating sites gained in the time since the battery was originally ordered and they will further improve the reliability of the battery going forward. The upgrades are currently in progress.”

In addition to this, Bushveld Energy has initiated the development of a mini-grid project at the Vametco mining and processing facility (pictured), in South Africa. The new mini-grid will be able to deliver up to 1 MW of power to Vametco, the largest size permittable without a generation licence under current regulations, it said.

The mini-grid will consist of solar photovoltaic (PV) generation paired with a 1 MW/4 MWh VRFB and will feed electricity directly into the internal distribution network of the mine. “The project is structured on an unsubsidised, commercial basis with project finance, showcasing the commercial viability of both renewable energy and energy storage technologies,” the company said.

Among a number of benefits to the mine, were:

  • “A reduction in overall demand from the South Africa power grid during the day time and peak periods in the mornings and evenings. The benefit to the mine is a reduction in its electricity tariffs due to lower consumption at the most expensive times of the day. The benefit to the South African power system will be lower demand during times when the power system is most constrained. VRFB technology is ideally suited for such applications, as it will be cycled two times per day to meet both the multi-hour morning and evening peaks of South Africa’s power system;
  • “By using long duration VRFB technology, additional solar energy can be generated and stored during the day for discharge after sundown, and;
  • “Reducing the mine’s reliance on grid power and increasing its ability in the future to self-generate during load shedding or other instances of grid interruptions.”

While the mini-grid will supply, at most, 8% of the mine’s energy consumption at any one time, “the project will demonstrate the technical and commercial capability of hybrid mini-grids using solar PV and VRFB technology, which is unmatched in its ability to deliver long-duration storage and cycle multiple times per day”, Bushveld said.

“The project could be scaled up further to provide a larger amount of energy in future. It could also be replicated at other grid-connected sites. The design can also be used at off-grid sites to replace more expensive and less environmentally friendly thermal generation.”

Similar to the structure of the projects covering the electrolyte production facility and the Eskom VRFB, Bushveld Energy said it would continue using its cooperation model in developing and delivering this project.

On top of these two developments, Bushveld said it made headway in the December quarter on the process to convert Bushveld-mined vanadium into electrolyte and design the production facility.

After promising pilot results at laboratory scale, Bushveld Energy procured two tonnes of vanadium for conversion into vanadium electrolyte, it said, adding that the scaled-up conversion process was currently being executed.

If proven successful, samples from the produced electrolyte will be provided to battery companies for suitability assessment, according to the company.

“There is significant expressed interest from VRFB manufacturers for vanadium electrolyte and appetite to add long duration energy storage to power systems and renewable energy projects in Africa overall.

“This suggests that there is sufficient market demand for vanadium electrolyte to support the installation of a 200 MWh capacity facility in South Africa,” Bushveld said. “The electrolyte production facility is being co-developed by Bushveld Energy and the IDC.”

MRC Graphite drafts in Mondium for Munglinup ECI and FEED contracts

Mineral Commodities’ wholly-owned subsidiary, MRC Graphite, says it has executed a professional services agreement with Mondium to undertake early contractor involvement (ECI) and front-end engineering and design (FEED) for the Munglinup graphite project, in Western Australia.

MRC Graphite is in the final stages of completing a definitive feasibility study (DFS) for Munglinup, which will provide the pathway to a final decision to commence construction. In addition, environmental permitting is ongoing and the current schedule, cognisant of regulatory processes and south coast seasonal variation, offers the opportunity to engage an engineering and construction firm to deliver additional value to the project through a purposeful ECI and FEED programme, the company said.

Mondium is an incorporated joint venture between Monadelphous Group and Lycopodium, which leverages the skills of both companies to provide technical and delivery solutions to its clients, Mineral Commodities said.

Mineral Commodities Executive Chairman, Mark Caruso, said: “Given the current tightening of resources in the mining project space, MRC is very pleased to have formed this relationship with a highly regarded engineering and construction firm. This will enable MRC to undertake significant value-add for the Munglinup graphite project through ECI and FEED stages, leading into construction later in the year, subject to approvals and a decision to mine.

“Mondium and its owners, Monadelphous and Lycopodium, are extremely well qualified and experienced in flotation design and construction and MRC looks forward to developing the Munglinup graphite project as safely, quickly and cost effectively as possible to ensure MRC emerges next year as a low cost, high quality graphite producer.”

According to a prefeasibility study, Munglinup will produce, on average, 54,800 t/y of high-purity graphite concentrate at a life of mine production cash cost of circa A$531/t ($377/t) graphite. Initial capital costs were estimated at A$52 million including 15% engineering procurement and construction costs (A$5.5 million), 15% contingency (A$6 million) and all owners’ costs (A$3 million).

Pilbara Minerals and POSCO move a step closer to lithium chemical production JV

The Pilbara Minerals Board has conditionally exercised its option to enter into an incorporated joint venture with POSCO (for up to 30% participation) for the development of a downstream lithium chemical conversion facility in South Korea.

Pilbara Minerals’ Managing Director and CEO, Ken Brinsden, said the company’s relationship with POSCO had developed over the last year as it has continued to work through the Pilgangoora lithium project joint venture.

“It has been really pleasing to see the positive results generated by the due diligence work to date. The significant investment by POSCO into their PosLX technology has paid off and they have proven their ability to produce an industry leading, battery-ready lithium product through their innovative lithium purification process,” he said.

On October 2, 2018, Pilbara Minerals produced its first spodumene concentrate shipment from Pilgangoora. A total of 8,800 t (wet) of spodumene concentrate grading approximately 6.1% lithia and 1.2% Fe2O3 set sail from Port Hedland bound for the company’s offtake partners in north Asia.

The company’s agreement with POSCO encompasses long-term offtake, funding and the downstream conversion plant joint venture opportunity.

Brinsden said the rapid growth in lithium chemicals consumption in South Korea could see the country’s battery manufacturing sector supply around 25% of worldwide capacity by 2028, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.

The downstream lithium facility, to be located in the Gwangyang Free Economic Zone in South Korea, would have up to 40,000 t/y of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) capacity and process spodumene from Pilgangoora using POSCO’s patented PosLX purification process.

Since the December quarter, Pilbara Minerals has been undertaking technical due diligence to assess the proposed chemical plant development and work to date has delivered promising results, it said.

“Due diligence has included a visit of technical staff and assessment of POSCO’s existing commercial operations plant using their PosLX technology, based on Pilbara Minerals’ spodumene delivered from the Pilgangoora project,” Pilbara Minerals said.

POSCO has developed its first commercial-scale operation (after the initial development of a pilot scale plant) that produces up to 2,500 t/y of lithium chemicals on an LCE basis, according to Pilbara Minerals. Based on spodumene chemical conversion, the plant has the capacity and flexibility to produce both high grade lithium hydroxide, or, alternately, lithium carbonate products with low impurities in the final products produced.

Pilbara Minerals said: “The battery grade lithium hydroxide produced has to date been tested by major South Korean cathode makers and has passed their qualification process.”

Once a number of conditions surrounding the deal are complete, they will be put to the Board of Pilbara Minerals for a final decision and commitment to the joint development in mid- to late-May 2019. The parties would then aim to complete construction of the chemical conversion plant in late 2020 with commencement of ramp-up and production from early 2021.

Terrafame to go ahead with nickel-cobalt sulphate plant in Sotkamo, Finland

Terrafame is to build a battery chemicals plant in Sotkamo, Finland, after finding the €240 million ($273 million) it needs to build the nickel-cobalt facility.

Terrafame, which took over the zinc-nickel-cobalt mine following the bankruptcy of former owner Talvivaara, said it intends to have the plant completed at the end of 2020 and commercial production started in 2021. Back in July, the company received permitting permission for the plant.

“The intention of the investment is the further processing of Terrafame’s current main product nickel-cobalt sulphide into nickel sulphate and cobalt sulphate, used in the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries,” Terrafame said.

The production capacity of the battery chemicals plant will be 170,000 t/y of nickel sulphate and 7,400 t/y of cobalt sulphate. This amount of nickel sulphate should prove to be enough to produce around 1 million/y electric vehicle batteries, with the cobalt sulphate enough to cover around 300,000/y.

Outotec is to supply the pressure leaching technology for the battery chemicals plant, with the contract including the planning of the leaching technology area, the supply of key equipment, and installation supervision and training services.

Pressure leaching is the first of the three main phases of the battery chemicals plant. During the pressure leaching, nickel-cobalt sulphide, which is Terrafame’s current main product, is first placed in a elutriating unit, where it is mixed with the process water. The slurry is then fed into an autoclave (ie a pressure leaching reactor, with a raised pressure and temperature) to produce a metal sulphate solution. After thickening and filtration, the solution is directed for further refining and finally for the production of battery chemicals.

Outotec has been involved in Terrafame’s battery chemicals plant project since the prefeasibility study phase. Construction of the electric vehicle battery chemicals plant is due to begin in the first half of 2019, with deliveries of pressure leaching technology estimated to begin in early 2020.

A funding package of $200 million related to the financing of the plant project was agreed by Terrafame, Finnish Minerals Group (previously Terrafame Group Ltd), Galena Asset Management, Trafigura Group and Sampo plc back in November 2017. In connection with the plant’s final investment decision, the parties have agreed on an additional funding package of approximately €100 million, Terrafame said.

Matti Hietanen, CEO of Finnish Minerals Group (which currently owns 77% of Terrafame and is wholly owned by the Finnish government), said: “This is a very important investment for Terrafame and its owners as well as the whole Finnish and European electric vehicle battery manufacturing value chain. Terrafame’s investment also improves the conditions for attracting more operators in the battery manufacturing value chain to Finland.”

Mika Lintilä, the Finnish Minister of Economic Affairs, said the Finnish state was willing to do its part in advancing the development of the Finnish battery production value chain “and to take forward the necessary efforts in research & development, operating conditions of businesses as well as investments”.

This week, BASF selected Harjavalta, Finland, as the first location for a battery materials production hub serving the European automotive market.

BHP nears nickel sulphide production in Western Australia

BHP appears to be very much on board the battery minerals train after confirming this week at the Diggers and Dealers conference in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, that it was likely to become a nickel sulphate producer within the next year.

The company is currently in the process of developing a nickel sulphate line to its Nickel West Kwinana refinery in Western Australia. The first stage project, to 100,000 t/y, will start to come online from April 2019, and the company has plans to double this to 200,000 t/y through stage two.

At the Diggers & Dealers conference on Monday, BHP Nickel West President Eduard Haegel said all regulatory approvals for the refinery project had been received and the project, which will rely heavily on automation, is starting to accelerate.

The company has a mini plant at the CSIRO facility in Perth where it has tested the process design to prove up around 100 kg/d of battery-grade product. These samples will shortly be distributed to potential future customers.

In addition to its future nickel sulphide production – Nickel West is already the largest producer of nickel powder and briquettes – the company is testing out producing cobalt sulphate within a mixed sulphate product.

Nickel West’s ambitions in the battery minerals space to 2040 are supported by a 6.2 Mt contained nickel resource base in Western Australia.

The Mt Keith Satellite project (Yakabindie) will be the first of a series of new developments at the company’s WA assets, with mining set to commence in the first half of next year.

Betheno, just north of Yakabindie, could be the company’s next Mt Keith development, with potential for production of iron-rich nickel sulphides, compared with other nearby deposits.

The company also has preliminary plans for two pit cutbacks at Mt Keith, while it has commenced a “concept” study to expand the Mt Keith concentrator from 40,000 t/y to 50,000 t/y. This is likely to require a third SAG mill to reach 45,000 t/y capacity and gradual replacement of flotation cells with larger capacity modern technology to hit 50,000 t/y.

Its 40,000 t/y Leinster concentrator, currently operating under capacity, also factors into this expansion with more ore set to initially come from the Venus deposit and, then, the B11 underground block cave development.

ERG’s Metalkol DRC copper-cobalt project to make use of Zambia power

Eurasian Resources Group’s (ERG) cobalt and copper developer Metalkol SA has secured electricity supply for its operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for up to 10 years after signing a pact that will see some power transported from Zambia.

The Copperbelt Energy Corp (CEC), a Zambian incorporated power transmission, generation and distribution company that is a major developer of energy infrastructure in Africa, will supply up to 78 MW per year of power to the operation as part of an agreement signed between ERG, Société National d’Electricité (SNEL), the national electricity company of the DRC, and Rawbank, a commercial bank in the DRC.

The agreement to supply electricity is comprised of two phases: the first will run until the June quarter of 2019 with a total of 62 MW delivered. Following this, the power supply will ramp up to 78 MW per year during the second phase and for the remainder of the contract.

Metalkol’s RTR project, located near Kolwezi, involves the use of a low-cost hydro-metallurgical facility to reprocess the old tailings dumped into the environment from mining activities in the 1950s. It is expected to produce 77,000 tonnes per year of copper and 14,000 t/y of cobalt in the first stage, with stage two increasing this to 105,000 t/y and 20,000 t/y of copper and cobalt, respectively.

Benedikt Sobotka, CEO of ERG, said: “This is an important milestone in the progress of the Metalkol project, a unique development for the global battery industry. It is an example of sustainable and environmentally conscious treatment of the local environment, and of our wider strategic ambitions in Africa.”

Miners in southern DRC have had worries about sustainable power supply in the past few years, with these concerns often holding back expansion plans.

Owen Silavwe, Managing Director of CEC, said: “Supplying base-load power requirements to mining houses is CEC’s principal business. With many years’ experience successfully supplying reliable power for mining operations in both Zambia and the DRC, this agreement demonstrates CEC’s commitment and agility to meet the specific requirements of customers in the DRC market. It also reaffirms CEC’s partnership with SNEL and the mining community in the DRC.”

CEC has invested in transmission networks in Zambia, including the only interconnection of DRC’s SNEL network to the regional interconnected network.

Jean-Bosco Kayombo Kayan, SNEL Director General, said: “The trilateral agreement signed by Metalkol, CEC and SNEL demonstrates SNEL’s willingness to serve its customers by offering its expertise in the Southern African energy market.”