Mining boom out of the blue
JUST 35km north-west of Grafton is a block of private land with the potential to change the face of Clarence Valley's industry as we know it.
Mt Gilmore, which lies between Fine Flower and The Gorge, has been revealed to be home to several deposits of high-grade cobalt.
Now Western Australia-based company Corazon Mining is trying to work out just how big that deposit is, and whether it's worth mining.
On June 16 2016, Corazon announced it had secured the right to earn up to 80% of the Mount Gilmore Cobalt-Copper-Gold Project from private company Providence Gold and Minerals Pty Ltd.
Their project tenure included one granted Exploration Licence covering an area of approximately 25km by 15km, and over the past couple of months they have been drilling to in an effort to find precious metals.
Corazon managing director Brett Smith said so far, things were looking good.
"We've been saying that this is one of the highest- grade cobalt deposits in Australia, we just don't know how big it is,” he said. "There was a lot of gold and copper prospecting there back in the late 1800s, early 1900s, and so it's amazing where it's located how little modern exploration has gone on there.”
The reason they have their eye on cobalt, rather than gold or copper, is that the element's value has risen exponentially in recent years due to its use in lithium-ion batteries.
Mr Smith said demand from the battery sector had tripled in the past five years and was projected to double again by 2020.
It is most commonly used in smartphones, laptops, and electric vehicles.
"Cobalt is the most expensive raw material used for building lithium-ion batteries, paying about $61,000 per tonne,” Mr Smith said.
"A lot of people have been exploring for cobalt in NSW but are looking at oxide deposits. Ours is a bit different in that it's a sulphide deposit, and they are fairly rare to be cobalt dominant.
"It's all in vogue at the moment so we're pretty hopeful this can be used to produce cobalt salts for batteries.”
Mr Smith said the company was currently on its second drill program, which they hoped could be used to accurately determine the lay of the land.
"We hope by early next year we might be able to do some modelling and determine out if there are any financial benefits and a resource there that can be exploited,” he said.
"We can guess it from our drill results but to get it right takes a lot of work.”
If the Mt Gilmore project did go on to become a mine, Mr Smith said it would take at least three years to get it up and running but would be a big employer.
"If we get good results this time we can push it hard and we'll probably do another drill program before the end of the year, and then we can look at the economics,” he said.
"If it does stack up it would be unusual to get an operation up and running in less than three or four years.
"It would definitely be an employer.
"All our contractors at the moment are based in New South Wales and we bring samples back to our Grafton base.”