SALMON - Officials with an Australian company's newly opened cobalt mine in East-central Idaho say it could soon produce enough of the key ingredient in lithium batteries to build 400,000 electric vehicles annually.
Officials with Jervois Global Limited held an opening ceremony last week at the remote, underground mine located in the Salmon River Mountains on federal land managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Officials said the mine will likely start operating at full capacity early in 2023, producing about 2,000 tons of cobalt.
On its website, the company said it wants to "become the leading global supplier of responsibly sourced cobalt and nickel materials to serve both the battery and chemicals markets, and to provide a secure, reliable supply to customers in the fact of geopolitical and other risks."
President Joe Biden in March directed the Defense Department to consider at least five metals - lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel, and manganese - as essential to national security and authorized steps to bolster domestic supplies. U.S. officials want to reduce reliance on China and other countries for metals needed for electric vehicles and clean-energy storage systems.
Gov. Brad Little said he toured the cobalt mine as part of the opening.
"Idaho has the capability of meeting our country's mineral demands through responsible, modern-day practices," Little said in a statement. "This project will further boost the economy and support a strategic national supply of critical minerals."
The company said the mine is located along the Idaho Cobalt Belt that formed millions of years ago, possibly during a volcanic event on a sea floor. The company said the belt is at least 40 miles long and up to 6 miles wide.
Several other companies have projects in the area, but Jervois said it is the only one that is mining.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, multiple companies have previously mined cobalt and copper in the region using tunnels and open-pit surface mining.
The most significant of these was the Blackbird Mine, which operated from the early 1900s until about 1960 and is now a Superfund Site due to heavy metals being released into nearby creeks.
The Idaho Conservation League, an environmental group in Boise, in 2021 signed a partnership with Jervois that the league said will have the company contributing $150,000 a year through the operational life of the mine to restore and protect critical habitat for fish and wildlife.
In May, Jervois and the environmental group awarded the first $150,000, with $75,00 going to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to remove two culverts blocking fish access to a Salmon River Tributary.
The rive contains federally protected salmon, steelhead, and bull trout.
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