U.S. cobalt mine, key to making electric vehicles, opens in Idaho : NPR

Cobalt is an important component of lithium-ion batteries, such as those in many electric vehicles

Keith Srakocic/AP


hide caption

toggle caption

Keith Srakocic/AP


Cobalt is an important component of lithium-ion batteries, such as those in many electric vehicles

Keith Srakocic/AP

SALMON, Idaho – America’s first – and only – cobalt mine in decades opened in Idaho on Friday amid growing demand for the unique metal, a key component in electric vehicle batteries and storage. batteries.

The opening of Australia’s Jervois Global facility in Idaho, near the site of a former open-pit cobalt mine, is welcomed by state and federal authorities who are pushing to accelerate the development of minerals that support safety national and national.

“We’re talking about building a world-class clean energy economy, and this mine, this project…is key to that vision,” Geri Richmond, of the U.S. Department of Energy, told workers and dignitaries gathered on the remote mine site.

Not far from the famous Salmon River, the mine is the latest reminder of the environmental dilemma for the United States and the world as economies evolve away from fossil fuels and towards greener energy. The electrification of transportation will require huge amounts of new mining.


Part of the mineral processing equipment at Idaho Cobalt Operations

Eric Whitney/NPR

Not your grandfather’s cobalt mine

The old mine, closed in 1982, was also the only cobalt mine in the United States at its time. It polluted local trout streams, but Jervois Global CEO Bryce Crocker said environmental safeguards were in place for the mine this generation, including $44 million set aside for cleanup, such as the requires federal law in the event of an unforeseen event. The Jervois mine is also mostly underground and will be capped once mining is complete, unlike the old large open pit mine.

“I think this is a really important development for the United States,” Crocker said. “It’s geopolitically significant because the United States has no domestic supply of cobalt.”

Most of the cobalt mined in the world today comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where child labor and other human rights issues are prevalent. Most of its production goes to China, which also controls most of the world’s cobalt refining.

“Idaho is the only cobalt mine in the United States and it will remain so,” Crocker said. “So we considered him a strategically important asset for the country.”

The $100 million company that Jervois listed on the stock exchange is launching, even at full production, is tantamount to a small knock on the global market. Once fully operational, the Idaho mine is expected to meet only about 10% of overall US demand. Enough for several hundred thousand electric cars, according to the company.

“It will be some time before we can actually say this is going to be a growth industry,” says Brad Martin, director of the RAND National Security Supply Chain Institute. “To think that we are going to be able to bring all of this back to the United States in a short time and be self-sufficient is not fair.”


Idaho Cobalt Operations workers attend a mine opening ceremony on October 7

Eric Whitney/NPR

Still, Martin says the future is the electrification of global energy grids, and cobalt plays a key role. Companies will therefore strive to obtain it from reliable sources, both domestically and in allied countries, as it is uncertain how China will use its control over most of the DRC’s cobalt.

Cobalt from the Idaho mine will be shipped to a refinery that Jervois is renovating in Sao Paulo, Brazil, for processing. The company projects an initial term of seven years. That makes building a U.S. refinery too expensive right now, but company officials are considering new federal funds aimed at boosting domestic production of minerals that could help extend the life of the mine.

Add Comment