Future demand for batteries for electric cars, renewable energy storage and portable devices like smart phones and laptops is driving up the price, and investor interest in, cobalt.
Cobalt is one of a new complex of ‘tech-metals’, also known as lifestyle metals, that includes lithium and vanadium.
It is yet to receive the wide spread public notice that lithium has in recent years, despite lithium-ion batteries containing more cobalt than lithium.
Ardea Resources, which will list on the ASX next month, has uncovered what is thought to be the largest known cobalt deposit in Australia.
Cobalt, an essential cathode ingredient, is another ‘tech metal’ ready to roar on back of demand for electric vehicle batteries. (Supplied: Ardea Resources )
“In the batteries you have an anode and a cathode, as the cobalt is used in the cathode,” said managing director Matthew Painter.
Half of the global supply of cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Central Africa.
Last year Amnesty International released a report on the rampant use of child labour in mines in the DRC.
It concluded that in 2014 there were 40,000 children working in mines across the country, many of them in cobalt mines.
Matthew Painter said the sourcing of ethically-mined cobalt was another major driver for the industry’s development.
“Clearly not ever operator there (DRC) is doing the wrong thing,” he said.
“But it seems to have tainted a good chunk of the industry there; so operators like Apple, Samsung and LG Chem are taking action to clean up supply lines.
“And it’s necessary that any country that’s at the end of the supply line take action and highlight the issue.”
Cobalt price on the up
Mathew Painter estimated that there was around 124,000 tonnes of cobalt supplied each year.
“The price is on the march, it’s increasing quite rapidly and will help change the economics of some projects I would imagine.
“In December it was around $US31,500 a tonne for cobalt metal, it is now sitting around $US36,000 and the predictions are it will continue to rise,” he said.
The cobalt deposit is within the Kalgoorlie Nickel Project zone in the goldfields of Western Australia.
The region is one of the best nickel provinces in the world but the industry has been in the doldrums in recent years in the face of low prices and international competition.
The rapidly growing demand for lithium-ion batteries could well change all that.
“There’s a substantial portion of nickel in the lithium-ion batteries,” Mr Painter said.
“We can target the cobalt directly, pull out the nickel at the same time, and make a product that’s going to be immediately usable for the tech industry.”
Read more from original source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-01-25/wa-cobalt-project