KINSHASA – With Western companies in Democratic Republic of Congo treading carefully in the face of political turbulence and a worsening business climate, Canada’s First Cobalt Corp is an unlikely newcomer to the central African nation’s mining scene.
Several of the Toronto-based firm’s workers are former employees of First Quantum Minerals, whose prized Kolwezi project was expropriated in 2010 in an episode that underscored the risks of investing in Congo. But for First Cobalt CEO Trent Mell, the logic of entering a country responsible for nearly two thirds of global cobalt output as the electric vehicle market booms is simple.
“The bottom line is: No DRC, no Tesla,” he said, referring to the U.S. automaker. “You can’t fill the void when you have 64 percent of production coming out of the DRC.” Demand for the metal, a key component in the lithium-ion batteries that power electric cars and mobile phones, is surging. Consultancy CRU Group say electric car and plug-in hybrid vehicle sales could quadruple to 4.4 million in 2021.
The market is so promising, Mell said, he is ditching the traditional model of treating cobalt as a by-product of metals such as copper or nickel and is basing investment decisions primarily on sites’ cobalt potential.
“We apply the lens of our exploration efforts and strategy around where are we going to find cobalt,” he said. “We’re able to cross – whether it be cobalt-silver, cobalt-copper, maybe even cobalt-nickel.”
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