Engineering & Mining Journal

FEB 2018

Engineering and Mining Journal - Whether the market is copper, gold, nickel, iron ore, lead/zinc, PGM, diamonds or other commodities, E&MJ takes the lead in projecting trends, following development and reporting on the most efficient operating pr

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Page 51 of 59

50 E&MJ • FEBRUARY 2018 PROCESSING SOLUTIONS As prices for lithium carbonate ascended to record levels due to overwhelming demand for the metal in battery production, 2017 could be labeled "The Year of Lithium" with daily mining industry headlines related to its exploration, production and processing sharing the spotlight with concerns about a looming global copper shortage. However, somewhat lost in the shadows of these two trending commodities was the concurrent rise of cobalt — another essential material for advanced battery production. Riding the crest of its own demand wave that has seen prices triple in two years, cobalt has drawn the focus of in- vestors interested in profi ting from its popularity and scarcity — and from ac- tual cobalt producers who have a stake in fi nding, mining and processing the metal. Much of the focus and activity revolves around operations in the Democratic Re- public of Congo (Congo), which produc- es more than half of the world's cobalt — although recent developments have raised concerns about the future of cobalt mining in the Congo, coupled with doubts about the continued scarcity of the metal. For example, last month E&MJ report- ed that Glencore's Katanga Mining Ltd. completed the hot commissioning of the core of the fi rst train of its new whole ore leach (WOL) processing facility at Luilu. Katanga also earmarked $15.8 million to reduce throughput bottlenecks in its existing cobalt processing circuit to align with the mine's life of mine cobalt pro- duction plan of 30,000 metric tons (mt) average yearly output. It also approved $49 million for cobalt product dryers as part of the cobalt production circuit. The tight supply of cobalt has been largely due to the fact that copper and co- balt production at KCC had been suspend- ed since September 2015 pending the construction of the WOL project. A progres- sive ramp-up and commissioning of the remainder of the fi rst train is expected to follow over the ensuing three months, with the objective of achieving full capacity on the fi rst train by the end of the fi rst quarter, and the company is looking forward to fi n- ishing construction and commissioning on a second train by mid-2018. A number of industry observers are predicting that the Katanga restart will eliminate or greatly al- leviate the global supply shortfall. Elsewhere in the Congo, Outotec re- ported in December it had been awarded a contract by Shalina Resources Ltd. for the delivery of copper and cobalt process- ing technology to the Mutoshi project near Kolwezi in the Congo. The order value was reported at approximately EUR 65 million. Shalina Resources has two operating cop- per/cobalt plants, at Etoile and Usoke. Outotec's scope includes basic engi- neering, technology and equipment deliv- eries for a new plant with an annual pro- cessing capacity of 20,000 mt of copper and 16,000 mt of cobalt. The plant will use Outotec's modular hydrometallurgical solutions, such as OKTOP reactors, VSF X solvent extraction, and electrowinning, along with grinding mills, thickeners, fi l- ters, analyzers and process control system. Deliveries will take place during 2018. However, against the backdrop of these facility upgrades, the Congo government is considering mineral code changes that could dampen the future of cobalt produc- tion in that country. Bloomberg reported in early January that the government is preparing to more than double its royalty on exported cobalt as part of a code re- form that would fi rst raise the royalty rate from 2% to 3.5%, and possibly to 5% if it decides to label the metal as a "strate- gic substance" considering its expanding presence in the international marketplace. Unhappiness with developments in the Congo may push future interest to other cobalt-producing regions, such as North America, where several projects are already under way. Dundee Sustainable Technolo- gies (DST), a Canadian company, recently announced a piloting test program with eCobalt Solutions Inc. on a 3-ton bulk min- eralized sample from eCobalt's Idaho Co- balt Project (ICP). This testing is planned to test the successful removal of arsenic on a pilot level to less than 0.5% from ICP con- centrates using DST's pyrolysis approach. The ICP comprises a mine and mill site located near the town of Salmon, Idaho, along with a to-be-built Cobalt Production Facility (CPF), a stand-alone hydrometal- lurgical facility located near Blackfoot, Idaho. The CPF will process concentrates from the mill into cobalt, copper and gold end products. The project is slated to produce the equivalent of 1,500 tons of high-purity cobalt sulfate annually over a projected mine life of 12.5 years. Rising Market for Cobalt Spawns Interest in Process Possibilities Workers strip cobalt from stainless steel anodes at Katanga Mining's Luilu metallurgical plant in the Congo.

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