COG3: The geology, geometallurgy and geomicrobiology of cobalt resources leading to new product streams

Lead Research Organisation: The Natural History Museum
Department Name: Earth Sciences

Abstract

Cobalt is an essential element for modern world. Its use in metal alloys, rechargeable batteries, electronics and high-value chemicals make it critical for a low-carbon society. Cobalt has the largest global market value of any of the individual e-tech elements (US$2.1 billion in 2013).
Cobalt is largely recovered as a by-product from the mining of other major metals and as a result, cobalt has not been the focus of study in ore-forming systems on its own. To address this knowledge gap we propose a systematic geological, geochemical and mineralogical approach to understanding the residence of cobalt in a range of important current and future ore minerals in diverse geological environments. A specific focus for this study are deposits forming in the Critical Zone of the Earth's crust where biological activity and weathering coincide and where cobalt is redistributed into forms where innovative bioleaching could change the way deposits are processed. Using new knowledge gained from the study of natural biological systems, advanced bioleaching techniques will be systematically applied to a range of deposits formed in the Critical Zone. Bioleaching also has great potential for reduced, sulfide-rich ores, particularly complex sulfide and often arsenic-rich ore-types where significant bioleaching has not yet been tested.
This COG3 proposal builds on our catalyst grant which developed a multi-institute and multi-investigator consortium with internationally recognised expertise across the geosciences including geology, geochemistry, mineralogy, microbiology and bioprocessing based in leading UK academic institutes: Herrington (NHM), Schofield (NHM), Johnson (Bangor), Lloyd (Manchester), Pattrick (Manchester), Coker (Manchester), Roberts (Southampton), Gadd (Dundee), Glass (Exeter), Mosselmans (Diamond) and Kirk (Loughborough), with in-depth expertise on geology, geometallurgy and geomicrobiology applicable to developing recovery strategies for cobalt from natural deposits. This group is underpinned by the Partners including the major mining companies Glencore, FQML and KGHM; a mid-tier European-based mining company Oriel; a junior UK-based mining SME Brazilian Nickel, an internationally accredited commercial research laboratory RPC and finally the Cobalt Development Institute representing the cobalt industry throughout the supply chain. They have all pledged to engage with the project, some through direct involvement in research activities, some with financial support for research and training and others by facilitating access to natural deposits and datasets. Further support comes from research colleagues at CSIRO in Australia.
Specific research will be delivered through a series of work packages which will address: 1) Geology and mineralogy of cobalt in natural systems; 2) Natural biogeochemistry of cobalt; 3) Bioprocessing of cobalt and development of new products; 4) Improving the cobalt supply chain through integrated studies and dialogue with stakeholders representing the supply chain. This research directly addresses the NERC Security of Supply of Mineral Resources (SoS Minerals) initiative Goals 1 & 2 with a fundamental aim to recognise the mineral residence and chemical cycle of cobalt (Goal 1) and provide geometallurgical information that will facilitate new opportunities for improvements to current recovery, minimising waste through geometallurgy; and thoroughly testing innovative, benign bioleach technologies for the extraction and downstream bioengineering of novel cobalt products (Goal 2). Through the collaboration of the PIs, Co-Pis, Partners and the development of PDRAs and PhDs, the program will produce high impact scientific publications for the international literature, highly significant public outreach and education on behalf of the NERC SoS programme and establish the UK COG3 consortium as a world leader in research into innovative cobalt recovery from natural mineral deposits.

Planned Impact

This project has already built a consortium of unrivalled depth and breadth with the skillset needed to deliver evidence for the decision-making needed to secure the supply of cobalt for the 21st century and beyond. The project will deliver a range of answers to the key science questions that delay such security, delivering a range of tools that can be applied to the identification and definition of new cobalt resources and the application of novel and benign bioprocessing options to the extraction and recovery of cobalt from a range of mineralization types found in Europe and elsewhere in the world.
This project has the ambitious plans of providing (i) New geological and mineralogical knowledge from existing and potential deposits of cobalt that will underpin new, more efficient exploration and mining activities (ii) A clearer understanding of the natural biochemical cycle of cobalt better defining the pathways that make and break cobalt-bearing compounds in natural systems (iii) An assessment of a range of bioprocessing pathways, at a range of scales, in both reduced and oxidized ore systems, targeted towards more benign biorecovery methods for cobalt (iv) Insights into new methods capable of (bio)engineering compounds for use by the broader the downstream cobalt user community.
The project will provide new knowledge relevant to both UK and international researchers as well as cobalt producing companies and end users of specific cobalt products. The research is also relevant to an understanding of the geology, mineralogy and biogeochemistry of the terrestrial environment, specifically the processes that underpin the biogeochemical cycling of metals. The project will also lead to cross-disciplinary awareness and will train a cohort of new scientists with skills to take the research further.
Commercial development with one or more industrial partners will lead to obvious economic and societal benefit. In addition, various national environmental agencies could benefit from the results of our study, particularly those concerned with land management. User groups and the public will be engaged through organised workshops as well as specific meetings. The primary mechanism for knowledge exchange with academic colleagues will be publication of papers in international refereed journals and conference presentations. We will also organise symposia through selected learned societies. We will establish a project website that describes the research in accessible terms and project members will be able to add new material to the website on a regular basis. We will specifically engage with the public through the public learning programmes at individual consortium institutions and we will engage with schools targeted at Key Stages 3 and 4, encouraging pupils to engage with research science via direct relationships with individual young researchers in the SoS programme.

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/M011488/1 01/05/2015 31/10/2019
1674543 Studentship NE/M011488/1 01/10/2015 31/03/2019 Sandra Dressler
 
Description Currently we have secured material from cobalt-bearing mineral deposits from a number of the key deposits mentioned in our proposal. We are currently characterising these in our laboratories. Cobaltiferous laterites include Acoje in the Philippines; Shevchenko in Kazakhstan and Caldag in Turkey. We have also secured material from the Captain and Kevitsa sulphide deposits.
We have now been working on arsenic-rich ores from Canada and Morocco and have had susses with implementing bio-leaching strategies for these ore types.
Exploitation Route Our work will be taken up by the mineral industry and regulators. As we move into analysing the results from the other linked work packages from the other partners, we expect increased direct engagement with these audiences
Sectors Electronics,Energy,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

URL http://www.nhm.ac.uk/our-science/our-work/sustainability/cog3-cobalt-project.html
 
Description The new findings of our work in Ontario Canada has been used by our collaborator, Battery Metals, to help focus their exploration efforts. We have furthermore been assessing the potential to test the mineralisation types found there using CoG3 technology
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Economic

 
Description Horizon 2020 Framework Programme H2020-SC5-2016-2017
Amount € 11,625,289 (EUR)
Funding ID 776473-2 
Organisation European Union 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 05/2018 
End 10/2021
 
Description Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship
Amount € 183,455 (EUR)
Funding ID 751103 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 10/2017 
End 10/2019
 
Description Rutherford Fund Strategic Partner Grants
Amount £327,516 (GBP)
Organisation Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 04/2018
 
Title Development of Zeiss Mineralogic SEM for ore analysis 
Description Mineralogic is an automated quantitative SEM system under development by Carl Zeiss UK. This instrument has been loaned to the CoG3 research group for development as a tool to assess cobaltiferous ore-types to be used for bioleach testing. The value of this loan is estimated at £40,000 for the 12 month period at no charge to the NHM. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The new Mineralogic method permits more rapid assessment of geological materials prior to any test work. 
 
Description Annual Cobalt Conference, Marrakech 2017 - Industry Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Industry workshop: "CoG3 The Geology, Geomicrobiology and Geometallurgy of cobalt ", 16th May 2017 Marrakech. CoG3 ran a 1day workshop for industry and were invited speakers at the Annual Cobalt Conference run by the Cobalt Institute.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.cobaltinstitute.org/the-cdi-cobalt-conference-2017-keynote-presentation-at-cog3-workshop...
 
Description Invited Keynote - IAGOD meeting Salta Argentina 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited keynote presentation entitled:Cobalt in sedimentary basins authored by Richard Herrington and Steve Roberts.
The majority of cobalt is produced as a by-product of copper and nickel production. Despite a very significant association of cobalt with magmatic nickel-copper and unusual five-element type deposits, more than 60 % percent of primary cobalt production comes from the Central African Copperbelt (CAC), particularly from mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Copper-cobalt deposits in the CAC represent the only clastic sediment-hosted copper district where significant cobalt is currently recovered. Similar sediment-hosted copper districts of the world (Fig 1.) are not know for cobalt although this could partly be a function of historical priorities. Cobalt is also recorded from a range of carbonate- hosted lead-zinc and copper districts but is likewise rarely recovered. Siliciclastic sequences in other rift environments are known to host cobalt-enriched massive sulfides. The cobalt-rich Windy Craggy deposit in Canada and the previously mined Kilembe deposit in Uganda are both considered to be Besshi-type systems formed in arc settings. New exploration is now focusing on cobalt in a range of other sedimentary associations like central Idaho, iron oxide-copper-gold deposits in a range of settings, and the five-element vein deposit types typified by those in the Cobalt region of Ontario.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Invited Lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Talk to the Cobalt Development Institute's annual Cobalt Conference held in Seoul South Korea. The conference was attended by 80 professionals interested in cobalt supply and usage.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.thecdi.com/cdi/images/news_pdf/16-3_cobalt_news.pdf
 
Description Invited talk at PDAC conference Toronto March 6th 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Around 150 professionals attended the invited talk at the international PDAC meeting. There was a lot of interested generated in the CoG3 project with enquiries from mineral processing professionals and international mining companies
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.pdac.ca/convention/programming/technical-program/sessions/technical-program/treasures-of-...
 
Description Lecture at international conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Conference talk at RFG Conference Vancouver in June 2018. Approximately 70 scientists attended the presentation Recovery of cobalt from lateritic deposits - detailed mineral chemistry implications for development of novel extraction strategies authored by:
Richard Herrington, Agnieszka Dybowska, Paul Schofield and Rachel Norman - Natural
History Museum; Fred Mosselmans - Diamond Light Source
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2018
 
Description Online blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact CoG3 blog dedicated to the project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
URL https://blog.nhm.ac.uk/tag/cog3-consortium/
 
Description Oral Presentation Goldschmidt Conference Paris 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Oral presentation and poster presentation
"Cobalt speciation in lateritic deposits - implications for development of novel extraction strategies"
"Atmospheric heap leaching of the Piaui Ni-Co laterite deposit, Brazil"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Policy impact Meeting SoS Minerals, UK House of Commons 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation of the SoS Minerals Programme, including CoG3, to All Parties Parliamentary Committee on Minerals Thursday 1st March 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Poster presentation EGU Vienna 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact "Understanding the residence of Co in ore minerals - towards the development of novel Co extraction strategies for laterite deposits"
Published in: "Geophysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 19, EGU2017-9330, 2017, EGU General Assembly 2017
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description SSoS Minerals Student Summer School 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact SoS Minerals Summer School 3rd-6th July hosted at NHM for cohort of research students including those involved with CoG3
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Sourcing metals for the future - The why, the where and the how 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was an invited talk for the annual Geological Society 'Lovell Meeting' focused on the Year of Resources
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.geolsoc.org.uk/Lovell17