Australia-based Jervois Global, a nickel and cobalt company, has commenced the first stage of plant commissioning at its Idaho Cobalt Operations mine site (ICO), following a successful opening ceremony on 7 October 2022. ICO is commencing a commissioning phase during October, with equipment undergoing final completion testwork ahead of continuous commercial concentrate production expected across Q4 2022. Jervois continues to expect to achieve full nameplate capacity by the end of Q1 2023.
ICO mine site, Summer 2022
Jervois acquired the partially complete ICO in the Salmon-Challis National Forest, west of Salmon, Idaho in 2019 with its buyout of Canada-based eCobalt Solutions. Once in production, ICO will be the only primary cobalt mine in the United States. Jervois has commenced infill and expansion drilling at ICO from both surface and underground platforms to improve ICO’s resource model to be used for short and medium-term mining operations.
In addition, planning is underway in relation to Jervois’ neighboring Sunshine deposit and historical mineral resource where it is preparing for 2023 summer drilling. The historical Sunshine cobalt resource is located a short traverse to the ICO mill and concentrator.
ICO is a key asset in delivering Jervois’ strategy to become a leading independent cobalt and nickel company providing metals and minerals for the world’s energy transition through a western supply chain.
Across 2022, Jervois has announced a US$4.8-million, or 46,000 feet, drilling campaign targeting both infill and expansion of the existing known mineral reserve and resource. To date, the company has completed 27,000 feet of drilling, which for infill has reduced drill hole spacing and which is expected to underpin mining in 2023 and into 2024.
Given the underground access which has now been opened via mine development, surface drilling (including targeted resource expansion holes) is now switching to underground, where productivity is expected to improve and can continue through the upcoming winter.
An updated Australian JORC and Canadian National Instrument (NI) 43-101 Mineral Reserve and Resource Estimate is expected to be published in Q2 2023.
Ore delivery to the plant on the ICO site is expected to begin this month, with multiple ore faces now available for production mining. Underground mine infrastructure including the underground fuel island, triple clarifying sumps and the main shop are nearing completion. Mine development continues with a focus on vertical development, to support additional production ore faces.
Following the opening ceremony last Friday, plant commissioning will commence shortly with steady state production at nameplate capacity expected by the end of Q1 2023.
Offtake. As there are no cobalt refineries in the US, the cobalt concentrate produced at ICO must currently be sent outside the US for refining. Jervois has an option to refine ICO cobalt concentrate at its 100%-owned São Miguel Paulista (SMP) refinery in São Paulo, Brazil, and is continuing its negotiations with third-party processors in countries allied to the US. Jervois will sell copper concentrate from ICO into North American markets.
Operating Costs. ICO construction has taken place across a period of rising inflation in the US. Strong management by Jervois and its US construction partners, led by M3 Engineering, minimized capital expenditure increases for mine development and construction. As the mine enters commissioning, Jervois is working to optimize its business plan for ICO including mitigation of these same US inflationary pressures on ICO operating costs.
Idaho Cobalt Belt. The ICO is located in the Idaho Cobalt Belt (ICB), a unique example of sea-floor hydrothermal brines that vented along an ancient rift within a deep-water setting. The ICB is a northwest-trending zone of Co-Cu-Au occurrences, about 54 km long and up to 10 km wide in its central part, centered on the ICO. It is an exceptional metallogenic province in which cobalt occurs in sufficiently high concentrations to make it the primary metal in the deposits.
The deposits are mostly strata-bound and appear to have formed during a mafic volcanogenic-exhalative mineralizing event on a paleo-sea-floor ca1600 m.y. ago. More recent regional metamorphic events have remobilized Cu and, to a lesser extent, Co in varying degrees throughout the belt. The deposits are unusually rich in Co, Cu, Fe, As, Au, B, Bi and light rare earths, but low in Ni (relative to Co), Ag, Pb, and Zn.
ICO is located near the inactive Blackbird Mine Site—an EPA Superfund Site. The site was closed in 1982, after severely contaminating water nearby with heavy metals. Cobalt, silver and copper ore were extracted from underground and open pit mining operations. Contaminated soil, sediments and tailings were released from the Blackbird Mine site during high water flows from thunderstorms and snowmelt. The main environmental concerns at the mine are cobalt, copper and arsenic released into Blackbird Creek, the South Fork of the Big Deer Creek, Big Deer Creek, and Panther Creek.
The ICO encircles the inactive Blackbird mine and encompasses the Ram, Sunshine and East Sunshine deposits and more than a dozen underexplored prospects and exploration targets.
Jervois says that ICO will operate on a zero-discharge basis with the water used in the processes, so there will be no degradation to rivers and streams. Any discharge that comes from the separate water treatment plant will be drinking-quality, as defined by the US EPA. ICO will use no tailings pond, using dry stacked tailings instead.
Arthur Bookstrom (2013) “The Idaho Cobalt Belt”, 2013 Belt Symposium V, 38th Annual Field Conference: Northwest Geology Volume 42