Cobalt extraction could position Chile as the second world producer

Isbel Lázaro.
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Inspenet, October 14, 2023.

A project carried out in collaboration between the Andrés Bello University (UNAB) and the University of Chile suggests that it could position the South American country as the second largest producer of cobalt in the world, only surpassed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The biomining project, obtained through the National Research and Development Agency (ANID), aims to reuse waste from the mining industry and extract the element from this waste .

According to the director of the UNAB Systems Biotechnology Center, Pilar Parada: “ Just by extracting the cobalt that is in the tailings, Chile could displace Indonesia, becoming the second largest producer in the world .”

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It should be noted that according to the forecasts of the National Energy Agency (AIE), global demand for the aforementioned element is expected to increase by 207% between 2022 and 2050.

On the other hand, according to a study commissioned by Corfo and Sernageomin in 2017 and carried out by Dr. Brian Townley, researcher at the Advanced Center for Mining Technology at the University of Chile, it is estimated that the country has the potential to produce approximately 15 thousand tons of cobalt from its mining waste.

According to the project, considering an average price of US$44,700 per ton and taking into account both mine and waste production, Chile could generate annual income for the country of more than US$1.1 billion.

About cobalt mining

The process of extracting mining waste would be carried out using a technique known as “bioleaching”, which involves the use of specialized microorganisms capable of dissolving minerals such as pyrite. This mineral is associated with said element in mining waste.

Furthermore, it is important to highlight that pyrite has the peculiarity of reacting with rainwater and air, which generates sulfuric acid . This substance can contaminate groundwater, affect agricultural land and endanger the stability of the areas where mining waste deposits are located, increasing the risk of spills, according to an academic from the Andrés Bello University (Unab).

Currently, the country has a total of 764 mining waste deposits .

The project has a planned duration of 4 years and has the collaboration of several institutions, in addition to the aforementioned universities. The Pucobre mining company plays a fundamental role as a strategic partner and will support industrial technological validation.

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Source: Segundo-productor-de-cobalto-del-mundo

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