JOHANNESBURG – Australia's Celsius Resources, which has made Namibia's first cobalt discovery, is aiming to start production from the remote mine in 2020, the company's managing director said.
Cobalt is a key component in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries used in the surging electric car market but most of it comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a country racked by instability and violence, prompting a scramble for alternative sources.
"We have found cobalt in Namibia and a lot of it. Everywhere we drill a hole along this prospective horizon we find cobalt," Celsius Managing Director Brendan Borg told Reuters.
Celsius will declare its maiden resource - the initial estimate of how much is economically extractable - around the end of March on the deposit, which is in the remote northwest of Namibia, a sparsely-populated country which is also a significant diamond and uranium producer.
Rio Tinto drilled in the area around 100 km (60 miles) south of the Angola border in the early 1990s but was not looking for cobalt at the time.
The deposit is in a remote region but is close to decent infrastructure - which Namibia is known for - such as good roads and reliable power.
"We are looking at late 2020 for first production," Borg said. He said Celsius could do it with the company's Namibian partner, unlisted Gecko Namibia, or it might divest from the project before that time.
"We have an open mind. We have the building blocks in place to go all the way to production given our relationship with Gecko. Whether we actually do or not is another question," Borg said.
"There may come an opportunity at some time to divest the project and we certainly have an open mind on that."
Borg also said there were possibilities to produce cobalt sulphate, which is used in battery production, in Namibia for export. Acid used in the uranium industry can also be utilised in cobalt processing.
"There is good acid production capacity in Namibia at the moment, it is underutilised because of the downturn in the uranium industry," Borg said.
Production could take place at the mine site or in the Namibian port of Walvis Bay on Africa's south Atlantic coast.