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Did you know that each electrical car battery requires between 10 to 20 kg of cobalt? Cobalt is used in many applications that support the shift to a low-carbon economy. Therefore, the demand for cobalt is rapidly increasing; and so is its price! The price of cobalt has risen nearly 250% in 2017 and is expected to significantly increase in the coming years, driven by stricter emissions controls that push the global demand for electric vehicles. As a result, the European Commission considers cobalt as a Critical Raw Material.

But where does this cobalt come from? Currently, the EU imports about 65% of its cobalt (approx. 10,000 tons/year) from geopolitically unstable countries such as Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Zambia or Central African Republic. Only 35% is produced from secondary sources, such as the recycling of spent batteries, super-alloys and hard metals.

The Crocodile project aims to drastically reduce the supply risk of cobalt for the European industries by increasing the efficiency of recovery processes for cobalt (and other relevant materials). We strive to do so with lower energy costs and environmental impacts, providing solutions with low capital investment costs. And finally, we want to maximize the exploitation of our ‘local’ waste.

Cobalt can be leached from primary resources using bioleaching in mining operations. Bioleaching is the extraction of metals from ores using living organisms. The Crocodile project aims to optimize and upscale the bioleaching of cobalt using a 100 L bioreactor. In parallel, secondary waste streams rich in cobalt will be identified and pre-concentrated by using novel advanced technologies that are capable of real-time high-speed classification. Different Co-bearing sources (like Lithium batteries, Electric Vehicle-batteries and cobalt catalysts) are processed into a high quality cobalt concentrate by applying a unique combination of advanced mechanical, wet mechanical and pyro-metallurgical processes. Along with cobalt, other valuable materials like lithium and graphite are extracted too. Finally, the high quality cobalt concentrates (from the primary and the secondary sources) are  further processed using solvent extraction and electro-winning which allows a selective extraction of cobalt.

The Crocodile project intends to optimize all the above mentioned processes and combine them in a compact commercial mobile system with a production capacity of up to 200kg of cobalt metal per day. Finally, Crocodile foresees an active stakeholder engagement bringing together investors, industry, policy makers and civil society. Together with the Crocodile consortium, these stakeholders scrutinize the best possible practices so that an environmental and socially- responsible business model is developed and a future replication of the project’s concept can be ensured.


The project abstract

The CROCODILE project will showcase innovative metallurgical systems based on advanced pyro-, hydro-, bio-, iono- and electrometallurgy technologies for the recovery of cobalt and the production of cobalt metal and upstream products from a wide variety of secondary and primary European resources. CROCODILE will demonstrate the synergetic approaches and the integration of the innovative metallurgical systems within existing recovery processes of cobalt from primary and secondary sources at different locations in Europe, to enhance their efficiency, improve their economic and environmental values, and will provide a zero-waste strategy for important waste streams rich in cobalt such as batteries.

Additionally, CROCODILE will produce a first of a kind economically and environmentally viable mobile commercial metallurgical system based on advanced hydrometallurgical and electrochemical technologies able to produce cobalt metal from black mass containing cobalt from different sources of waste streams such as spent batteries and catalysts. The new established value chain in this project will bring together for the first time major players who have the potential of supplying 10,000 ton of cobalt annually in the mid-term range from European resources, corresponding to about 65% of the current overall EU industrial demand. Therefore, the project will reduce drastically the very high supply risk of cobalt for Europe, provide SMEs with novel business opportunities, and consolidate the business of large refineries with economically and environmentally friendly technologies and decouple their business from currently unstable supply of feedstocks.

Crocodile, the first of a kind commercial compact system for the efficient recovery of cobalt designed with novel integrated leading technologies.

EC’s Criticality Figure published in 2017. Key elements, including cobalt, are highlighted