Proclaimed as the largest near term primary cobalt reserve in North America, Missouri Cobalt in Madison County is well on its way to becoming an industry leader.
"Missouri Cobalt is on a mission to become the industry leader in processing clean, green, ethically-produced battery materials to support the advancement of America's renewable energy industry," Missouri Cobalt CEO Michael Hollomon said. "We intend to leverage the great working men and women of the state of Missouri to help us power a clean future."
Hollomon said the global demand for cobalt in batteries is expected to rise threefold by 2025.
"We intend to be at the forefront of the industry, providing local jobs and revenues for this great state and this great country," Hollomon said. "The market for battery materials is fascinating. We are at the convergence of a revolution in two major industries, energy and automotive. Electric batteries are fueling this revolution and the demand for cobalt, nickel and copper are critical to the effort."
Head of Processing Clint Fletcher said he tries to hire a workforce as diverse and local as possible.
"We will train, we will teach you how to do this and they are doing a great job, they really are," Fletcher said. "For coming in and doing something they've never ever done before, they are learning fast. With this Missouri sun and humidity, they are definitely hard workers."
Hollomon said these great workers are the backbone of America.
"We are proud to have them here at Missouri Cobalt," Hollomon said. "We have a highly-skilled and experienced workforce that you don't find in the remote areas that most cobalt comes from."
Hollomon said Fletcher came from a mine in Colorado where he built an operation larger than Missouri Cobalt, but the entire thing was about 1,000 feet below ground.
"With almost 29 years of experience, Fletcher is the big man of this plant," Hollomon said. "We are glad to have him as part of our team."
It was easy to see safety was the number one priority for Fletcher, Hollomon and Missouri Cobalt as a whole. The site required steel-toe boots, hard hats, safety glasses, high visibility vests and, in some areas, ear protection and masks. Visitors were required to attend a safety course before going on-site.
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"We are intent on being the safest work environment in the world," Hollomon said.
As Fletcher and Hollomon walked around the grounds they showed the pug mill where the tailings are dumped to start the initial screening out of rocks. Once the tailings are turned into a slurry, they are put into tanks and pumped into the plant.
Using 90 gallons of water a minute, with 90 percent of that being recycled, the plant runs the material through the system until the end, when the bubbles have a metallic sheen to them.
Fletcher said nothing is wasted on his watch as everything he does not get in the end is pumped right back to the beginning and goes back through. He said the final concentrate, after it is dried, is what will be hauled off in the trucks and is really, really heavy.
Hollomon said the final concentrate will go to a smelter in Canada that is making nickel but gets cobalt as a byproduct. He said Missouri Cobalt is looking at ways to, down the road, to do all of that onsite.
Missouri Cobalt's lab tests core samples and measures the minerals in the ground.
"During the whole operation of the mine we will be testing all along the way," Hollomon said. "You go through different ore bodies and we'll go through different tailing areas and levels of quality. So it helps us to test before we run it through the plant."
Fletcher said the ICP machine will analyze a sample to show how much cobalt, copper, nickel and other minerals is in the mix. He said the machine actually burns the sample into a flame and the heat and color will tell them what it contains.
The plant recently switched over to 24-hour operation and is currently working in the "A tailings" with four other areas left to process.
"Just the above ground, we have eight to 10 years of work, if we go really fast it could be six years," Hollomon said. "But we want to get started below ground in the next year and a half to two years so that will slow down the above ground and it will mix in."
Hollomon said Missouri Cobalt has almost 2,000 acres of mineral rights in and around the property and plans to start the next phase of drilling.
"We are going to do a 30-drill hole program in the coming six months to a year here onsite and immediately after that we are going to start drilling on our mineral rights areas," Hollomon said. "So we are definitely looking to expand."
Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at firstname.lastname@example.org