Is North America the next cobalt producing giant?
In the last decade, increased demand for rechargeable batteries and electric vehicles has led to growing demand for cobalt. Cobalt possesses high thermal stability, high energy storage capacity and is resistant to corrosion, making it a very suitable material to use in the clean energy industry.
Approximately 70% of the world’s cobalt is produced in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Almost all of this is exported to China, which in turn is the largest exporter of refined cobalt.
However, the heavy reliance on cobalt from the DRC continues to cause malpractices within the supply chain. Ethical and human rights issues - including child labour, unregulated mining and corruption - taint the country’s cobalt industry. Increased criticism from consumers, who demand a supply chain untouched by these issues, has resulted in major players in the industry sourcing the mineral from other countries.
DRC has the world’s biggest cobalt reserves, with approximately 3.6 million tons. However, North America is estimated to have a total of 285,000 tons of cobalt reserves, of which Canada’s share is 230,000 tons. Although these volumes are much smaller than those found in Congo, Canada’s cobalt is of the highest grade; so much so, in fact, that investors including Bill Gates have set up a fund for cobalt exploration on the continent.
The development of cobalt mining in North America will help to increase competition in cobalt production, which, it is hoped, will in turn encourage ethical mining in Congo.
To push for more transparency in cobalt mining, more than 380 companies have committed to source the mineral from responsible mines, through the Responsible Mineral Initiative. BMW is among the leaders in this initiative, and has signed a $110mn deal to source cobalt from Morocco in a bid to avoid working with the DRC. Other companies including Ford, IBM and Tesla are seeking to change the landscape for cobalt mining, either by employing blockchain or by looking for other sources.
With more than 50 deposits in the US and others in Canada, there is potential for the region to produce high-grade cobalt while maintaining an ethical and transparent supply chain.
Lemaiyan Lemein is a mining engineer, researcher and journalist based in Kenya.
Vale invests $150mn to extend life of Manitoba operations
Vale has announced a $150mn CAD investment to extend current mining activities in Thompson, Manitoba by 10 years while aggressive exploration drilling of known orebodies holds the promise of mining well past 2040.
Global energy transition is boosting the market for nickel
The Thompson Mine Expansion is a two-phase project. The announcement represents Phase 1 and includes critical infrastructure such as new ventilation raises and fans, increased backfill capacity and additional power distribution. The changes are forecast to improve current production by 30%.
“This is the largest single investment we have made in our Thompson operations in the past two decades,” said Mark Travers, Executive Vice-President for Base Metals with Vale. “It is significant news for our employees, for the Thompson community and for the Province of Manitoba.
“The global movement to electric vehicles, renewable energies and carbon reduction has shone a welcome spotlight on nickel – positioning the metal we mine as a key contributor to a greener future and boosting world demand. We are proud that Thompson can be part of that future and part of the low carbon solution.”
Vale continues drilling program at Manitoba
Coupled with today’s announcement, Vale is continuing an extensive drilling program to further define known orebodies and search for new mineralization.
“This $150mn investment is just one part of our ambitious Thompson turnaround story. It is an indicator of our confidence in a long future for the Thompson operations,” added Dino Otranto, Chief Operating Officer for Vale’s North Atlantic Base Metals operations.
“Active collaboration between our design team, technical services, USW Local 6166, and our entire Thompson workforce has delivered a safe, efficient and fit-for-purpose plan that will enable us to extract the Thompson nickel resources for many years to come.”
The Thompson orebody was first discovered in 1956 by Vale (then known as Inco) following the adoption of new exploration technology and the largest exploration program to-date in the company’s history. Mining of the Thompson orebody began in 1961.
“We see the lighting of a path forward to a sustainable and prosperous future for Vale Base Metals in Manitoba,” said Gary Annett, General Manager of Vale’s Manitoba Operations.