Cobalt Blue Demo Plant

Cobalt Blue and Broken Hill: working together to take ethical cobalt to the world

This article is a sponsored feature from Mining.com.au partner Cobalt Blue Holdings Ltd. It is not financial advice. Talk to a registered financial expert before making investment decisions.

Broken Hill, in Far West New South Wales, is considered the birthplace of mining in Australia, and its metallurgists have been credited for some of the most important developments in mineral processing technology.

The town is where it all began for mining giant BHP (ASX:BHP) back in the 1880s.

Such is its history, Broken Hill’s streets are named after rocks and minerals.

Nicknamed the ‘Silver City’, Broken Hill began mining of a globally significant orebody over 140 years ago, containing the world’s richest source of silver, lead, and zinc.

Yet few people know that in 1905, the world’s first commercially successful flotation mill – an innovative processing method for separating valuable minerals locked in waste rock – was established at Broken Hill.

Now Cobalt Blue Holdings (ASX:COB) is poised to place Broken Hill’s geological riches and innovative mining credentials back onto the global stage, with the advancement of its Broken Hill Cobalt Project (BHCP) set to revive the town to its former glory.

Cobalt Blue Broken Hill project

It starts with the people

The BHCP Demonstration Plant has now been commissioned and operations have begun, an important milestone in delivering the Definitive Feasibility Study (DFS).

And while it may only be a 6-year-old company advancing a new project, Cobalt Blue understands the history of the region and the importance of engaging the community to get this critically important mine into production.

With demand for cobalt metal surging worldwide and about 70% of global production currently coming out of the high-sovereign risk Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), there is an urgent need for ethically sourced cobalt.

“We aim to take ethical Broken Hill cobalt to the world”

Cobalt Blue Communications and Engagement Manager Andrea Roberts notes: “We aim to take ethical Broken Hill cobalt to the world. 

This is important to the world, as we will produce enough cobalt to power millions EVs and contribute to the global green energy transition. 

It’s also important to the local community, as the project will reposition Broken Hill as a centre for excellence in mining – creating jobs, prosperity, and reinforcing the mining creds of this iconic, outback, mining city.”

Embedding ESG early and always

While the company aspires to be one of the world’s largest producers of cobalt for battery production, it takes its ethical responsibilities seriously.

The Company has adopted the Cobalt Institute Responsible Assessment Framework (CIRAF) as a means of assessing and implementing global best practice standards. The CIRAF is a management tool allowing participants to demonstrate their alignment with global best practice on responsible production and sourcing.

Locally, Cobalt Blue has an ESG focus in place, with particular attention to engagement with the Broken Hill community.

Social accountability started early … and has continued throughout development

As Roberts notes, social accountability started early in the project and has continued throughout its development. This involves proactively informing the local community about the new-age benefits of the mine from a local and global perspective and truly listening to the aspirations of locals when it comes to the future of Broken Hill.

Keeping jobs local

The company has been making the right moves, demonstrating a commitment to local jobs and procurement during the development and commissioning of the Demonstration Plant, which will treat a minimum of 3,000 tonnes of ore and produce about 10t of cobalt products (mixed hydroxide and/or cobalt sulphate).

The local team of employees and contractors that was built around the pilot phase has grown to facilitate the construction and operation of the Demonstration Plant.

Roberts adds that they are the ‘first people in the world’ to work with this patented technology developed by Cobalt Blue that can extract cobalt from pyrite.

While the project is poised to double the country’s cobalt production to around 7,000tpa, from a local perspective it will also provide up to 400 full-time equivalent regional jobs for the estimated 20-year duration of the Project.

This will not only bring economic benefits to Australia but also help to economically revive Broken Hill.

The population of Broken Hill has been in steady decline over recent times, so this project presents a huge opportunity to create local jobs and career pathways, while also attracting workers from elsewhere to move to Broken Hill with their families and become local  residents,” says Roberts.

“This Project presents a huge opportunity to create local jobs and career pathways”

And that’s very important to the people of Broken Hill. The social fabric of the place is historically very strong, its community soul is unique. There is an optimism that if we work together, we can overcome challenges and create opportunities to grow a residential workforce.”

For Cobalt Blue, a residential workforce creates many advantages, not least of all in stabilising employees and enabling investment in their skills and capabilities over the long term.

The company is working closely with the Broken Hill City Council, Foundation Broken Hill, all tiers of government, and other leaders in the community to facilitate employment opportunities and encourage social development in the region.

There are specific areas of community interest being addressed in partnership with these leading agencies such as housing, childcare, health services, skills, education, and training.  Also, major projects involving infrastructure, like upgrading the Broken Hill Airport, which currently connects the city with daily flights to Adelaide, Sydney, and Melbourne.

Roberts says that the company commitment to ‘keeping it local’ will involve nurturing career aspirations locally through creating awareness and clear pathways from school and into the mining sector. There are also relationships being cultivated around promoting an equitable employment environment, so the workforce can embrace mature age career-changers, women, and the local indigenous community.

Roberts explains: “Engagement is ongoing. Working in any community involves a mixture of leadership and listening to truly understand.  It is important to us that we have an open mind and that our ear is very closely attuned to what concerns and motivates the community.”

To date, Cobalt Blue has achieved strong grassroots support through achieving tangible  progress on the ground, and through ‘walking the walk’ when it comes to keeping it local.

We are saying loudly and proudly that together we will take ethical Broken Hill cobalt to the world, and that is proving to be a great source of pride for the locals too, who are accustomed to Broken Hill having a huge reputation in mining worldwide,” says Roberts.

BHCP critically important and well under way

The project is of critical importance. It is one of the largest greenfield primary cobalt projects in the world. In fact, if Broken Hill were a country, it would rank number 5 for cobalt production once the mine is fully operational. The Broken Hill Cobalt Project will represent 10% of non-DRC cobalt supply by 2025.

The ‘large-scale’ operation is located about 25km southwest of Broken Hill and covers an area of some 37km-square within a broader tenement holding of almost 220km-square.

It sits in a deformed and metamorphosed Proterozoic supracrustal rock succession named the ‘Willyama Supergroup’, which was deposited millions of years ago. It hosts most metalliferous occurrences, including the giant Broken Hill Pb-Zn-Ag (lead, zinc, silver) orebody.

The project will be a multi-pit open cut mining operation and is low-cost. It is estimated to have C1 cash costs of US$9.34/lb cobalt, and all-in sustaining costs (ASIC) of US$12.13/lb. This is versus a long-term average cobalt price of US$27/lb.

Cobalt Blue’s process separates over 80% of the waste from the ore at the first step. This means it will refine less than 20% of the material brought out of the ground. The refinery then processes a 0.5% cobalt content concentrate.

Cobalt Blue is working towards completing a DFS and gaining necessary approvals by late 2023. The aforementioned Demonstration Plant has been commissioned and forms a key basis for the DFS.

Images: Cobalt Blue Holdings Ltd
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Written By Adam Orlando
Mining.com.au Managing Editor Adam Orlando has more than 20 years’ experience in the media having held senior roles at various publications, including as Asia-Pacific Sector Head (Mining) at global newswire Acuris (formerly Mergermarket). Adam has worked in newsrooms around the world including Hong Kong, Singapore, London, and Sydney.