A $560 million cobalt mining and processing project near Broken Hill has been granted Major Project Status by the federal government in recognition of its national significance, paving the way for faster approvals.
Announced on Wednesday by Industry minister Angus Taylor, the status will help Cobalt Blue Holdings clear regulatory approvals as it seeks to set up an operation to produce 16,700 tonnes of high purity cobalt sulphate each year.
The critical mineral is used in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries. At full operation the project will produce enough cobalt to make batteries for over five million electric vehicles, according to the company.
The project is also expected to produce 300,000 tonnes of elemental sulphur each year which could reduce Australia’s dependence on imports for fertiliser production.
Cobalt mining has traditionally been dominated by the Democratic Republic of Congo. Australia has produced around 4 per cent of global supply, despite holding 19 per cent of the world’s cobalt resources, according to Austrade.
Increasing demand for batteries and more transparency and ethics in their supply chains has opened a huge export opportunity for Australia, with analysts predicting the local cobalt sector will grow by over 5 per cent annually this decade – more than double the previous 10 years’ rate.
Cobalt Blue claims it will soon be one of the world’s largest ethical suppliers of cobalt, with more than 30 large battery manufacturers interested in its Broken Hill Project.
The project is an integrated mine-refinery concept, with both open cut pits and an on-site processing facility ultimately producing “battery-ready” cobalt sulphate.
A pilot plant was commissioned last year and has already produced samples for battery manufacturers, with a demonstration plant the next step.
“The Broken Hill Cobalt project’s pilot plant has already produced samples for shipping to battery precursor manufacturers across the country and the world – and now we’re helping to supercharge its potential,” Mr Taylor said in a statement Wednesday.
“This mine will not only help the surrounding regional communities in and around Broken Hill, it will also help power the growing battery industry and reduce emissions.”
Resources minister Keith Pitt said the project has the potential to boost Australia’s reputation as leading supplier of resources.
“Once operational, the Broken Hill Cobalt Project will further open up new opportunities for Australian resources exports, especially given the incredible demand for high quality cobalt,” Mr Pitt said.
“We have tremendous rich reserves of cobalt and projects such as this one will allow us to take full advantage of them.”
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