The rise of the electric car seems to be creating a run on a rare mineral with ties to one of Ontario’s original mining towns. While the last time you heard about cobalt may have been when you were memorizing the periodic table in chemistry class, this uncommon metal is generating quite a bit of buzz these days.
Cobalt is a key component in lithium-ion batteries. As automakers eager to reduce their fleet’s carbon footprint introduce more and more electric models, the demand for cobalt for those batteries is expected to quadruple by 2020 and grow eleven-fold by 2025. That demand, coupled with a short supply of the mineral, has resulted in cobalt prices jumping by over 80 per cent.
Currently, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the world’s major producer of cobalt. China and Canada come in at a tie for a very distant second place, with each country providing only six per cent of global supply. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, are warning that there is a significant risk that cobalt from the DRC is being mined in extremely dangerous conditions by children as young as seven. This, coupled with political instability, has automakers on the lookout for supply chain alternatives.
This is where the small Ontario town of Cobalt enters the picture. Cobalt, located in northern Ontario close to the Quebec border, was a major mining centre for silver over 100 years ago. In the first six decades of mining there, the town’s silver mining camps shipped almost 1.2 million tons of rich silver ore and concentrates. Between 1904 and the beginning of WWII, 70 different mining operations were located there, making it the biggest silver camp in the world at that time. While it was known that cobalt was present there too, there wasn’t enough demand for the product to justify extracting it. That thinking changed in the spring of 2016 and since then over a dozen mining companies have staked claims in the area.
First Cobalt is company with the largest land holdings in the camp there. It controls over 10,000 hectares of prospective land, 50 historic mines, a mill, and is currently the only permitted cobalt refinery in North America capable of producing battery materials. First Cobalt initiated drilling in 2017 and has confirmed the presence of three cobalt bearing veins.
Ontario isn’t the only province or territory with high hopes for cobalt mining. Deposits have also been found in the Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan. In addition to the direct mining jobs that these projects could drive, the mining industry typically generates many indirect employment opportunities in fields like environmental and technical consulting, shipping, rail, and transportation. One 2011 study found that for British Columbia’s 21,112 people directly employed in mining there were an additional 16,590 jobs indirectly created.
As one of Canada’s leading contract engineering and project staffing firms, the Ian Martin Group has decades of experience assisting mining companies to find the technical talent required to keep their projects moving forward. Whether you’re a technical professional interested in exploring exciting new opportunities in the mining industry, or you work for a mining company and are in need of some additional talent for your project, our experienced recruiters are always available to discuss how Ian Martin can help you achieve your goals.