Now called Electra Battery Materials, the former First Cobalt expects its new moniker to better reflect its plans for a battery complex to meet supply-chain demands and the rapidly growing electric vehicle manufacturing sector in North America
First Cobalt, a Toronto-based cobalt exploration and refining company, is rebranding and expanding its strategic plans to bring domestically sourced raw battery materials to North American automakers, with the refurbishment of its existing Cobalt, Ont. plant and expansion of a surrounding industrial park.
Under its new name, Electra Battery Materials Corp., the company says its industrial park will be the only integrated battery material complex in North America, promising to provide battery-grade nickel sulphate and cobalt, recycled lithium-ion battery materials and battery precursor materials to the continent’s supply chain.
“Electra intends to become the first regional refiner capable of providing these materials in bulk through a modular plant design,” said Michael Insulan, Electra’s vice-president of commercial, in a press statement.
“To keep up with a rapidly evolving market, we can and must do more for the circular economy and through localized primary feeds, resulting in more jobs and investments in our home market.”
A four-phase plan
Electra’s four-phase business plan aims to create a battery park to “act as a bridge between North American electric vehicles and a North American source of primary and recycled material, providing a low carbon solution for zero-emission vehicles,” said Electra’s president and CEO, Trent Mell, in a press release.
Electra is already the owner of the only battery-grade cobalt refinery in North America, located in the town of Cobalt. With an initial target to produce at least 60,000 tonnes of nickel-sulphate and 6,500 tonnes of cobalt annually, the company wants to be able to supply enough raw materials to build more than 1.5 million EVs per year.
Since early 2020, Electra has been getting the formerly mothballed factory refurbished and past regulatory hurdles in order to begin refining operations. The cobalt refinery will, says the company, be powered with 100 per cent hydroelectric power from Ontario Power Generation and is a net-zero facility.
Electra is currently awaiting the final required approvals and permits for the factory but says it is on schedule to begin production on refined cobalt by the end of 2022.
By that time, Electra is also expecting to expand its hydrometallurgical battery recycling plant to produce 5,000 tonnes of cobalt. For the second phase of its plan, it will commission a demonstration plant that will begin commercial processing of black mass from batteries by 2023. Black mass feeds from recycled batteries are currently being tested and plans are in place to recover lithium, nickel, cobalt, copper and graphite from batteries.
The company says in addition to recycling black mass, its next step will be to expand its refined mineral offerings to produce battery-grade nickel sulphate facility by 2024-2025. The company has hired a global consultancy firm CRU to do a nickel market study to assess market conditions for a battery-grade nickel sulphate plant in North America.
As part of the final phase of its growth strategy, Electra is looking for precursor manufacturers to partner with and help construct a precursor plant at the complex in 2025.
Switch to North American resources
Earlier this year, Electra indicated it wanted to build North America’s first battery park, pointing to successful complexes in Finland, South Korea and China as examples of its goal.
Now that the company is a step closer to making its goal a reality, the factory will cater almost exclusively to the increasing battery cell industry and EV market in Canada and the U.S.
With currently 80 per cent of the world’s battery-grade cobalt — a key component in building lithium-ion batteries used to manufacture EVs — coming from China, Mell said that it would not be “sustainable” to continue supplying the growing North American EV market “with battery materials through Asia,” given the continent’s rich mineral resources.
“Globalization has created an electric vehicle supply chain that is too long, too costly and increasingly unreliable,” said Mell.
“Our automaker clients have a strong interest in greater localization of the upstream supply chain to achieve greater reliability, security of long-term supply, and a lower carbon footprint.”
One of the main arguments in favour of Electra’s battery park business plan (in addition to filling a hole in Canada’s EV battery supply chain) is the net savings for the industry. “Co-location of lithium-ion battery precursor manufacturing with nickel and cobalt sulphate production [will] represent a major cost saving in the battery value chain,” reads company materials.