Cobalt and the growing battery market have been at the centre of an Australian Mines strategy now paying off as the company’s value soars past $300 million, compared to about $10 million a year ago.
Australian Mines hopes to start construction at the Sconi project in north Queensland by the end of the year and is also developing the Flemington cobalt-scandium-nickel project in New South Wales.
“We saw that batteries were going to move, we saw that cobalt was probably the next commodity that was going to move, we got in early and took that risk,” said managing director Benjamin Bell.
Cobalt hit the company’s radar after its underground nickel mine in Western Australia wound down in 2009.
At that stage, Mr Bell said battery component lithium was being discussed at industry conferences, with nickel and cobalt getting a mention, but they were gaining little interest.
Australian Mines gained assistance from the University of Exeter to assess cobalt projects around the world.
“We spent the 12 months of 2015 getting out and putting our foot on the best assets and they happened to be Sconi and Flemington,” Mr Bell said.
“It was a deliberate strategy. It probably took us about 18 months or two years before we could announce that we had acquired the projects.”
Australian Mines completed the acquisition of the Sconi cobalt-nickel-scandium project (formerly known as NORNICO) from joint venture partner Metallica Minerals in December for $10 million in cash and shares.
It has a measured resource estimate of 17 million tonnes at 0.80 per cent nickel and 0.07 per cent cobalt, with an indicated resource estimate of 48 million tonnes at 0.58 per cent nickel and 0.07 per cent cobalt.
Mr Bell said it was expected to cost about $500 million to bring Sconi into production, including the establishment of an on-site processing plant, with an 18-month construction period.
The operation would support a workforce of about 150 people.
The company is undertaking a bankable feasibility study, expected to be completed in April.
“Sconi is probably running 18 months ahead of Flemington and the reason for that is we have the approvals in place for Sconi.”
The Sconi project is based near Greenvale, about 200km north-west of Charters Towers.