New road paves the way for Canada’s first primary cobalt mine

Canadian highway being repaved. (Reference image by Province of British Columbia, Flickr).

Fortune Minerals (TSX: FT) (OTCQX: FTMDF), the company behind what could become Canada’s first primary cobalt mine, said this week that its NICO project will greatly benefit from the about-to-be-open Tlicho all-season road, linking the community of Whati to the national highway system.

The Tlicho Highway is a 97-kilometre, two-lane gravel all-season road to Whati constructed by North Star Infrastructure under a 28-year, $400-million design-build-operate-maintain contract with the Government of the Northwest Territories. The capital costs include up to $53 million in federal government contributions through the Canada Infrastructure Fund.

According to Fortune, the road is a key enabler for its NICO cobalt-gold-bismuth-copper project because once it is inaugurated on November 30, 2021, the company can work towards completing its planned spur road to the mine, which will allow metal concentrates to be trucked to the railway at Enterprise or Hay River for delivery to a planned refinery in southern Canada.

“I would like to congratulate the Tlicho people on realizing a 40-year vision to establish this essential road link to the community of Whati, which will also make the winter ice roads extending north to Gameti and Wekweeti more reliable with climate change,” Robin Goad, Fortune Minerals president and CEO, said in a media statement. “It is gratifying to see three levels of government working with industry to complete important infrastructure to improve the lives of generations of Northerners.”

Fortune itself worked side by side with the Tlicho government to get approval for its 51-kilometre spur road, which would go through the Nation’s traditional territory. 

Through a deal signed in November 2019, the Ontario-based miner agreed to the conditions under which it was allowed to build and operate the way. The agreement also specified the conditions for a road reclamation bond that will be held by Tlicho interests.

The NICO project is a critical minerals development comprised of a mine and concentrator in the Northwest Territories and a hydrometallurgical refinery at a site expected to be located in Alberta or Saskatchewan, producing cobalt sulphate, gold, bismuth ingots and oxide, and copper cement. 

Considered one of the most advanced cobalt development assets outside of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, NICO is expected to help meet the growing demand for the metal for lithium-ion batteries powering electric vehicles, portable electronics and stationary storage cells. 

“A new vertically integrated Canadian supplier of cobalt sulphate will also reduce the geographic concentration of production and policy risks associated with DRC and Chinese domination of the supply chain,” Fortune’s brief states. “The unique metal assemblage of the 33.1 million tonne NICO Deposit includes primary cobalt, a 1.1 million ounce in-situ gold co-product, 12% of global bismuth reserves, and copper as a minor by-product.”

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