Bringing one of the world’s largest Lithium mines into production would be enough for many companies, however Neometals are keen to show they still have much more in their armory. They recently unveiled potentially lucrative new technology for recycling cobalt from used Lithium ion batteries that could produce a net present value of at least US$84m over 10 years.
ASX-listed Lithium producer Neometals, who last month shipped their first concentrates from the Mt Marion mine near Coolgardie, have wasted no time branching out into a new “tech metal” business.
The company revealed this week it had successfully completed laboratory-scale test work using proprietary technology after it successfully recycled Cobalt from 100 kg of spent Lithium-ion batteries sourced from old laptops, mobile phones and other consumer electronic equipment.
Neometals’ timing could not be better, with Cobalt emerging in 2017 as one of the hottest of the new tech metals. Spot prices have jumped by more than 80% since a trough in December 2015.
The company released an engineering cost study by Sedgman this week for the construction of a modular, containerized facility to recycle Cobalt from spent batteries.
In a statement to the ASX, Neometals reported that the Sedgman study indicated strong potential for a viable processing operation via a modular plant to initially recover saleable Cobalt product from used Lithium-ion batteries.
The study found the newly developed technology, which recovers Cobalt with a purity of 99.2%, could operate at a cost of $US9,852/t – less than a quarter of recent spot prices of around $US43,000/t for Cobalt.
Sedgman concluded that, even with a cobalt price of $US35,000/t, Neometals could achieve payback on a $US4.5 million recycling plant in less than one year and could generate a net present value of $US84 million over a 10-year operating life.
These figures are for a small plant producing just 666 tonnes of cobalt per annum, which is just a fraction of the estimated 30,000 tonnes of cobalt that piles up every year in spent batteries. Currently, less than 5% of used Lithium-ion batteries are recycled.
Neometals said their next step was to invest in a continuous operation, pilot-scale, hydrometallurgical plant at their laboratory in Montreal, Canada, where a dedicated subsidiary, Urban Mining, is managing the commercialisation of the cobalt recycling technology.
Subject to the success of the pilot plant, Neometals are looking to move ahead with a feasibility study with an expected completion date of December 2017. The company said it had internal financial resources to fund evaluation, construction and commissioning of a commercial-scale plant, but it would seek potential partners with complementary skills to fast track development.
Neometals Managing Director, Chris Reed, said “With the Mt Marion Lithium project successfully in production, Neometals can extend its strategic focus on higher margin, downstream opportunities in the Lithium value chain where we can apply our knowledge and technology portfolio. Here the opportunity is to provide an environmentally and ethically responsible end-of-life solution – by recycling the Lithium units we produce – urban mining.”