Excavators and drillers at work in an open pit copper and cobalt mine. Picture: REUTERS
Excavators and drillers at work in an open pit copper and cobalt mine. Picture: REUTERS

Australia’s Celsius Resources, which made Namibia’s first cobalt discovery, is aiming to start production from the remote mine in 2020, says the company’s MD.

Cobalt is a key component in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries used in the electric-car market, but most of it comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country racked by violence, prompting a scramble for alternative sources.

"We have found cobalt in Namibia and a lot of it," said Celsius MD Brendan Borg.

"Everywhere we drill a hole along this prospective horizon we find cobalt."

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, which is also a significant diamond and uranium producer.

Rio Tinto drilled in the area about 100km south of the Angola border in the early 1990s but was not looking for cobalt.

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.