Canada and Cuba: key cobalt upstream players in the Americas
The Americas is a small player in the global cobalt production landscape, and we believe prospects for significant growth in the region are limited for now. This is due to a limited project pipeline and low resources compared to other global players.
- Canada and Cuba are the main producers of cobalt in the Americas, with limited output in the United States. Cumulatively, these three countries produced 5.3% of global cobalt production in 2020 (Cuba: 2.6%, Canada: 2.3%, US: 0.4%), accounting for a total of 7.2kt. In terms of cobalt resources, these three countries account for 10.1% of global cobalt resources.
- As with Australia, Canadian cobalt comes mostly from large nickel and copper mines that produce cobalt as a by-product of their normal operations. Some of these major nickel and copper deposits are Kidds Creek, Sudbury and Raglan.
- In Cuba, a joint venture nickel-cobalt operation held by Canadian firm Sherritt International and local firm General Nickel Company in the Moa region utilises an open-pit mining system to mine lateritic ore, which is processed into mixed sulfides containing nickel and cobalt using high-pressure acid leaching.
Intermediate Processing And Refining:
- Cuba’s state-owned nickel miner, Cubaniquel, is the sole operator of the Che Guevara processing plant at Moa, that processes cobalt concentrates from the Moa joint venture into mainly cobalt hydroxide for export.
- In Canada, First Cobalt is building a refinery in Ontario to refine third-party cobalt hydroxide into cobalt sulfates for battery production, which is scheduled to be commissioned in Q422. Once the Ontario refinery is fully commissioned and operational, it will be the only North American producer of cobalt sulfate for the EV industry, with a 25.0ktpa capacity.
- In March 2021, First Cobalt signed an offtake agreement with UK-based Stratton Metal Resources for the future sale of 100% cobalt sulfate production from the refinery in Ontario. Considering the lack of cobalt sulfate production in North America, the Canadian and Ontario governments jointly announced a CAD10m investment in the First Cobalt refinery in 2020 to help accelerate commissioning and expansion.
- While currently there is no chemical refining of cobalt in the Americas, there are refineries producing cobalt metal. In Canada, Vale produces refined cobalt metal at its Port Colborne refinery in Ontario, while Sherritt and General Nickel Co operate a joint venture refinery in Alberta that produces refined cobalt metal in powder and briquette form.
- Outside the three main producers, Capstone Mining Corp is advancing its 100% owned Santo Domingo copper-iron-gold project in Region III, Chile, to feasibility stage. The project, once operational in 2024, will also produce cobalt as a by-product, and the company plans an integrated cobalt refinery at the site to produce cobalt sulfate for use in batteries. The project will benefit from Chile’s favourable mining jurisdictions and the fact that cobalt at the Santo Domingo project is sourced ethically.