As battery prices fall and more and more countries begin to adopt energy storage, the need for materials to build those cells has led UK-based metal mining firm Vedanta Resources to study how to produce cobalt for use in batteries.
The company is just the latest mining firm to look beyond its traditional markets to investigate mining battery ready materials ahead of the anticipated increase of electric vehicles and greater demand for energy storage.
The recent price rises in cobalt — from $27,000 a tonne last August to around $62,200 — have added to the attractiveness of the metal.
Vedanta is well placed because 98% of cobalt comes as a by-product of copper and nickel mining — and Vedanta’s finished copper production in 2015-2016 was 123kt of a total mined production of 182kt.
The company has copper smelting and mining operations in India, Australia as well as Zambia, where its Konkola Copper Mines are one of Africa’s largest integrated copper producers.
Vedanta Resources’ chairman, Anil Agrawal says he wants the Konkola mines to be the largest integrated copper producer in Africa and Vedanta’s hub for copper and cobalt production in the continent.
Vedanta announced in July that it produces around 1,000 tonnes of cobalt-copper alloy per year and aims to boost that to 3,000 to 4,000 tonnes of pure cobalt a year in the future.
“As cobalt is becoming more exciting, we are looking to determine the right engineering solution to produce cobalt for batteries rather than a copper-cobalt alloy,” said Tom Albanese, who steps down as CEO of Vedanta at the end of August. He said the excitement around EVs had prompted the move to produce battery ready cobalt from its Zambian copper mines.
The move is especially relevant as 64% of the world’s supply of cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country that is dogged by civil unrest, political instability and whose mining industry is well known for using children as part of its work force.
Glencore is the world’s biggest cobalt miner, producing 12,700 tonnes in H1 2017 from its DRC operations.
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