The University of Queensland (UQ) and Cobalt Blue Holdings will look into whether cobalt used for battery storage can be extracted from copper mine tailings in Mount Isa and Cloncurry.
The joint research is part of the Queensland Government and UQ’s ongoing $1.03 million Secondary Prospectivity project, which investigates recycling waste at mines across the state.
Samples taken from a number of copper mines will be sent to Cobalt Blue’s demonstration plant for trials using its tailored metallurgical extraction method.
Cobalt Blue chief executive officer Joe Kaderavek said the company would look to expand its operations into Queensland if the results are positive.
“Queensland is sitting on a significant resource of cobalt, copper and gold. Recycling that cobalt is great news for both Queensland and global battery sectors,” Kaderavek said.
“And in doing so it will significantly diminish current environmental pollution as a result of recycling this metal which is currently sitting in tailings.
“We believe that Cobalt Blue has the right technology to convert tailings into commercial metals whilst actually enhancing the footprint of tailings.”
The joint research project is set to begin in early 2022 and will run for up to two years with ongoing results published on the Geological Survey of Queensland’s Open Data Portal.
University of Queensland Associate Professor Anita Parbhakar-Fox said the joint research could help boost Queensland’s circular economy while also supplying the metals needed for a low-carbon future.
“From an environmental point, finding opportunities for economic rehabilitation will help to safeguard our future,” Parbhakar-Fox said.
“By re-evaluating waste as a potential resource, we also have an opportunity to introduce more sustainable practices to the resources sector with the metals being recovered from the start of a mine’s life.”
Resources Minister Scott Stewart said electric vehicles could one day be powered from the waste of North West Queensland copper mines as part of the research.
“Cobalt is a crucial new economy mineral used in electrical vehicles and battery storage and we hope that through this research we can help unlock Queensland’s potential as a major global supplier of it,” Stewart said.
“And of course, it could also be a game-changer for how our Queensland copper mines operate by turning unused waste tailings into an entirely new revenue stream.
“For Queensland, this could lead to new projects and industries along with providing many more jobs for Queenslanders.”