The International Centre of Excellence from the Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI-ICE-Chile) at the University of Queensland organized the first workshop focused on cobalt in Santiago, Chile on November 20. With presenters from 11 organizations and over 80 participants including academics, students, and professionals from supplier, consulting and mining companies, the workshop evidenced the wide-spread interest from the industry for this element present in mineral deposits in our country, and representing the great potential for future research, work and marketable byproducts.

The workshop was opened by Neville Plint, Director of the Sustainable Minerals Institute in Australia, who was in Chile that week. The first session focused on the supply and demand. Francisco Acuña from CRU and Alejandro Muñoz from the Chilean Cobalt Corporation spoke about the cobalt market in the world and in Chile, respectively. Brian Townley from Universidad de Chile, presented about the potential in the country regarding cobalt from a geological point of view, including a metallurgical outlook to find opportunities for its exploration, and eventual recovery, through current copper processes.

In the second session, Héctor Suazo from SGS Minerals, Juan Pablo González from GeoMine and Alejandro Quilodrán from Solvay discussed about cobalt from ore. Romke Kuyvenhoven from SMI-ICE-Chile commented that cobalt is associated to pyrite, an aspect that yet to be studied in depth. An issue that must be addressed and developed in detail, to allow learning and facilitating cobalt production as a byproduct. She mentions that the most feasible method to recover this metal would include stages such as pyrite flotation > pyrite-concentrate leaching > cobalt precipitation.

For the third session, after lunch, Iván Nancucheo from Univ. San Sebastián and Rodolfo Rodríguez from SAM Consultants spoke about cobalt as a secondary resource. The latter emphasized cobalt recovery from batteries, focused on applying aspects of circular economy. The fourth and last session focused on industrial case studies, where Leonardo Parraguez from Pucobre and Milton Rojas from Andes Iron commented on recovery and flotation of cobalt in seawater, and the cobalt business model in the copper and iron industries, correspondingly. Javier Quevedo’s presentation (SMI-ICE-Chile), was of great interest to the audience, seen in the number of questions made, and the novelty of his research about the distribution of cobalt in pyrite crystals, and the impact this generates in the potential resource exploitation. Also, he introduced and showed results of an analysis technique that has not yet been used in this type of study, and from a geometallurgical focus, uniting the views of geologists and metallurgists.

For 2020 a second version of the workshop is being considered, which will cover some of the less emphasized topics, such as the necessary efforts to characterize, recover and process elements of value from tailings, as well as cobalt electrowinning processes or the secondary product precipitation, along with the search for new products and byproduct that promote, together with copper, the economy of Chile, always considering the economic, social and environmental potential this entails.