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Copper Waste Could Yield Cobalt, Say Researchers

The mineral is highly sought-after and a key component in lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles and battery storage systems

Australia mine
File photo of a copper mine. The deal marks a positive development for Rio Tinto’s efforts to expand its output of commodities. Photo: Reuters.


Cobalt, a valuable new economy mineral, could be extracted from copper mining waste, according to a research project between Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) and Australia’s University of Queensland.

The three-year study uses samples from Copper Resources Australia’s Rocklands copper mine in northwest Queensland.

Scott Stewart, resources minister in the Australian state, said this study could change sustainable copper mining.

“This research could help unlock the state’s potential as a major global supplier of ethically sourced cobalt and battery manufacturing,” Stewart said.

Cobalt is a highly sought-after substance that is a key component in lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles and battery storage systems.

The study has the potential to turn waste into another revenue stream for copper mines globally, once results are released by 2024 in a public report and data set.

The samples will be studied at the University of Queensland’s Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI) and at JOGMEC’s laboratories in Japan.

Tetsuhiro Hosono, JOGMEC chairman and chief executive officer, said the joint research aimed to promote the effective use of unrecovered cobalt resources

“This could contribute to the stable supply of minerals that are needed for a carbon-neutral society,” Hosono said.

“Should this project yield notable results, there is potential for the technology to be shared and used in other countries and regions.”

The project forms part of the Queensland government’s five-year A$23 million new Economy Minerals Initiative to develop, promote and understand the potential of critical minerals.

Neville Plint, SMI director, said the project could yield valuable research. “As the industry seeks to reduce its environmental footprint there is growing interest in reusing mine waste as a secondary resource” Plint said.

  • George Russell



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George Russell

George Russell is a freelance writer and editor based in Hong Kong who has lived in Asia since 1996. His work has been published in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, New York Post, Variety, Forbes and the South China Morning Post.


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