Jervois Global opens first US cobalt mine

Company News

by Glenn Dyer

Australian mining company Jervois Global Limited (ASX:JRV) officially opened America’s first cobalt mine with the aim to hit full capacity next February.

Construction was completed last month on the mine which is 8,000 feet above sea level in the US state of Idaho.

The mine is located in Idaho’s Salmon River Mountains and will aim to produce 2,000 tonnes of cobalt per year.

Jervois acquired the uncompleted mine in 2019 and has worked through disruptions caused by Covid and the lockdowns to get it up and running in three years.

Jervois has invested $US200 million to finish the mine. It originally projected it would make back the investment in three years, though that estimate has stretched out with rising costs.

The mine officially opened last Friday in a ceremony attended by Jervois’ Board and US and Australian political figures including Idaho Governor Brad Little; the Australian Ambassador to the U.S., Arthur Sinodinos; Under Secretary for Science and Innovation at the US Department of Energy, Dr. Geri Richmond; and the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Textile, Consumer Goods and Materials, US Department of Commerce, Jennifer Knight.

Cobalt is a critical component of the lithium-ion batteries that power electric cars and trucks. Demand is strong for that reason with battery and carmakers leading the way. The price of cobalt doubled last year to $US32 a pound before falling to its current price at $US27.75.

America’s Inflation Reduction Act climate and tax law passed in August includes provisions geared toward developing a US supply chain for batteries, potentially benefiting domestic suppliers of key minerals such as cobalt.

About 160,000 tonnes of cobalt were mined worldwide in 2021, with about a third going to the automotive industry, according to the Cobalt Institute, a trade association based in the UK. The US produced some cobalt as a by-product from Michigan’s Eagle nickel mine

But the US contributed only less than 1 per cent of global supply, according to the US Geological Survey. About 70 per cent of the supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where workers labour under notoriously poor conditions. Glencore is a major producer.

The cobalt concentrate produced at the Jervois mine in Idaho will be shipped to Brazil for refinement because America doesn’t have a cobalt refinery.

China is the world’s leading producer of refined cobalt.

The proposed Jervois mine lies adjacent to the defunct Blackbird mine, which extracted cobalt, silver and copper ore from underground and open pit mining operations and closed in 1968.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, cobalt, copper and arsenic were released into neighbouring watersheds. One nearby creek was “basically a dead river” before recent restoration efforts, said Josh Johnson, senior conservation associate at the Idaho Conservation League.

Blackbird mine was “an environmental disaster”, Jervois Crocker told the Financial Times, but today water treatment facilities can prevent such contamination.

“Our job is to make sure that 30 to 40 years from today, however long the mine lasts, when you go back there you can’t tell there’s ever been a mine,” he said.

Plenty of cobalt has already been discovered in Australia – more than 55,000 tonnes have so far been identified by Chalice Mining at its huge Julimar prospect in WA, Blue Cobalt has plans to use mine waste to produce the metal, as does a project in Queensland while there are several other prospects in South Australia and WA. Glencore produces cobalt in WA from its lateritic nickel processing business.

Jervois Global shares fell 1.6% on Friday to 59 cents on the ASX, well under the year high of $1.02.

Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer has been a finance journalist and TV producer for more than 40 years. He has worked at Maxwell Newton Publications, Queensland Newspapers, AAP, The Australian Financial Review, The Nine Network and Crikey.

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