eCobalt’s Idaho cobalt project under construction on the Idaho Cobalt Belt, is the only environmentally permitted primary cobalt project nearing production in the US. The project is located approximately 40km west of Salmon, in Lemhi County, Idaho.

The vertically integrated cobalt project, designed to produce battery-grade cobalt, is scheduled to commence operation in 2020. The project is owned and operated by eCobalt’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Formation Capital Corporation.

Pre-construction activities of the project were completed in the first half of 2018, while the construction phase started in the second half of 2018. eCobalt spent more than $120m on the project as of August 2018.

Production from Idaho cobalt project

The feasibility study for the Idaho cobalt project, completed in September 2017, forecasted an average annual production of 2.4 million pounds (Mlbs) of cobalt, along with 3.3Mlbs of copper and 3,000 ounces (oz) of gold, over a 12.5-year mine life.

The production estimates were based on an 800 tonnes per day (tpd) underground mining operation assuming a 0.25% cobalt cut-off grade.

Idaho cobalt project development details

Construction on the project was first started in February 2010 with a target to commence production by 2013, based on a previous project feasibility study that was completed in September 2007 and revised in May 2008.

The construction, however, was suspended and the mine was put on care and maintenance in May 2013 due to adverse market conditions.

With the subsequent turnaround in cobalt prices, eCobalt completed a fresh preliminary economic assessment of the project in March 2015 and commissioned a new feasibility study in 2016, based on updated resource, mine model and mine schedule.

The latest feasibility study included the design of a hydrometallurgical processing plant to produce cobalt sulphate, which is used in the production of cathodes for rechargeable batteries.

An optimised feasibility study (OFS) for the project is also being carried out to define the roasting condition for the Idaho cobalt project (ICP) ore to produce clean, low-arsenic, high-value cobalt concentrate product.

The OFS is expected to be completed by the end of 2018.

Idaho cobalt mine geology and mineralisation

Idaho cobalt project lies within the Idaho Cobalt Belt, a northwest-trending strata-bound copper and cobalt complex, measuring 64km-long and up to 10km-wide, hosted within the Proterozoic Yellowjacket Formation.

The Idaho Cobalt Belt is known to host several cobalt-cupper deposits including First Cobalt’s Iron Creek cobalt mine.

Idaho cobalt project licence area comprises three ore deposits namely Ram, Sunshine and East Sunshine.

The current mining plan and the project’s resource estimate are solely based on the Ram deposit, which remains open at depth. The Sunshine and East Sunshine deposits, located within 2km distance from the Ram deposit, represent potential expansion of the project in future.

The dominant minerals at the Idaho cobalt project deposits include cobaltite and chalcopyrite. Other minerals present in small quantities, apart from gold, include pyrite, pyrrhotite and arsenopyrite.

Idaho cobalt project ore reserves

The Ram deposit of the Idaho cobalt project is estimated to hold 1.98 million tonne (Mt) of proven ore reserves, grading 0.43% cobalt, 0.013 ounce/per tonne (oz/t) of gold and 0.69% copper.

The probable reserves are estimated to be 1.67Mt, grading 0.52% cobalt, 0.017o/t gold and 0.67% copper.

The total measured and indicated resource estimates of the project were increased to 3.87Mt grading 0.59% cobalt and the inferred resource estimate was increased to 1.82Mt, grading 0.46% cobalt, in February 2018.

Mining, processing and infrastructure facilities for the Idaho cobalt project

Idaho cobalt project will be an underground mining operation targeting the Ram ore body to produce 800Mt of 0.25% cobalt cut-off grade ore a day.

The extracted ore will be conveyed to the mill located at Big Flat, a relatively flat area on the mine site, by overhead tram at 1,000ft height from the portal, for the production of cobalt-copper-gold concentrate.

The mill complex will house coarse and fine ore storage facilities, an ore stockpile conveyor, a crushing, grinding and flotation plant as well as the concentrate dewatering facility, a dry stacked tailings waste storage facility, a water treatment plant, concentrate haul road, and a shipping dock.

The concentrate produced from the mill will be trucked to the hydrometallurgical cobalt processing facility in the Blackfoot municipal area, for the final production of battery-grade cobalt material.

To be situated in an industrial park, the cobalt processing facility will have easy access to existing infrastructure facilities, such as the adjacent utility connection point from where electricity can be supplied, municipal water supply, waste water disposal facility, and an existing rail spur and connection to the adjoining rail line.

 Contractors involved with the Idaho cobalt project

JDS Energy & Mining is the engineering and construction management contractor for the Idaho cobalt project.

Samuels Engineering provided detailed engineering and equipment procurement services for the project.

The construction contract was awarded to Dahle Construction.

Dundee Sustainable Technologies was engaged for conducting pilot tests for the optimized feasibility study of the project.

Micon International, in collaboration with SNC Lavalin, prepared the feasibility study for the project in 2017.

Small Mine Development (SMD) provided cost inputs for the final optimised mine schedule during the feasibility study phase.

Samuel Engineering, in association with Mine Development Associates, carried out the preliminary economic assessment for the project in 2015.