As a result of Regional Geochemical Survey conducted in the entire Gilgit-Balistan region by Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation Islamabad during 1991-2001, as much as 255Nos. of potential target areas (drainage catchment cells) have since been identified to contain anomalous amount of cobalt values. These values ranges up to 1458 grams/ton in association with copper, gold, silver other precious and base metals above the threshold value of 70 and 25 gm/ton already set for the pan concentrate and -80mesh fraction respectively for the entire Gilgit-Baltistan region by the Australian experts.
Muhammad Yaqub Shah
Very rightly said by a renown investment advisor, Mr.Matt Bohlsen, “2016 was lithium’s year, 2017 might well be cobalt’s year”. Because the cobalt market has already gained a 20-years Compounded Annual Growth Rate of approximately 6% with a price of 55,500 USD/T in the international market as on 21st April 2017, whereas the production is also now greater than 100,000 metric tonnes per annum. This growth has been primarily due to the demand for cobalt in high performance rechargeable batteries which now accounts for more than 50% of consumption, up from 1% of a smaller market in the mid 1990’s. Cobalt delivers superior energy density for power, performance and charge life in lithium-ion batteries and is therefore a key ingredient in most cathode chemistries, including Lithium-Cobalt Oxide (“LCO”), Nickel-Cobalt-Aluminum (“NCA”) and Nickel-Manganese-Cobalt (“NMC”). Cobalt is also used in super alloys for aerospace applications, high strength alloys for cutting tools, cemented carbides, permanent magnets and surgical implants, pigments, catalysts, and additives in agricultural products.
The cobalt market has switched into a supply deficit which is expected to continue as demand growth continues to overtake supply. Darton Commodities Limited is forecasting an approximately 11% Compounded Annual Growth Rate of battery demand for cobalt to 2022 – noting the impact of transformative automotive electrification. And whereas a typical smart phone battery contains between 5 and 20 grams of cobalt, EV batteries usually contain between 4,000 and 14,000 grams. Additionally, Tesla’s Giga factory in Nevada started commercial production earlier this year and will require more than 7000 tonnes of cobalt per annum when it reaches full production in 2018. Notably, more than 15 battery mega-factories have either been announced or are under construction globally to meet the future demand for Electric Vehicle’s and stationary storage cells.
In the light of the above explained situation, the Nucleus of Planners in Pakistan must give a priority to the exploration of cobalt as there are high potential target areas in the entire Country for exploration and development of this mineral commodity. All the ophiolite complexes in the Country stretching from North to South, including Waziristan Copper resource (containing 0.11% cobalt apart from copper, gold and silver in 35 million tons of ore) are the abodes of cobalt mineralization which are customarily found associated with other precious and base metals. Moreover, as a result of Regional Geochemical Survey conducted in the entire Gilgit-Balistan region by Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation Islamabad during 1991-2001, as much as 255Nos. of potential target areas (drainage catchment cells) have since been identified to contain anomalous amount of cobalt values. These values ranges up to 1458 grams/ton in association with copper, gold, silver other precious and base metals above the threshold value of 70 and 25 gm/ton already set for the pan concentrate and -80mesh fraction respectively for the entire Gilgit-Baltistan region by the Australian experts.
Amongst the aforementioned 255 nos. of target areas only in Gilgit-Baltistan region, the top most cobalt anomaly that needs distinction for its exploration at the outset is a specific catchment cell of about 4sq.km in Pakora valley of Gilgit-Baltistan as represented by a pan concentrate sample no. 50338 (Lat.36.3788280N & Long.73.8973090E) shown in the figure given below.
The chemical analysis of this sample (standardized to 100gms) contributes its results as under: –
The rock types observed within the catchment cell area are highly deformed, metamorphosed (up to green-schist facies) basalts, andesites and rhyolites intruded by quartz veins. Boulders, cobbles and pebbles of slates, conglomerates, sandstone, serpentinite, limestone, red shale and quartzite all representing melange zone rocks of the Northern Suture Zone (NSZ) have also been noticed in the float rocks of the catchment area’s small tributary. The prevalent geological environments within the area therefore augment its exploration for future mineral development in the entire region.
A possible accelerated approach in this context would be that Pakistan Council for Science and Technology (PCST) mandated to provide advice to the Government on policy issues regarding Science and Technology take initiative by recommending targeted exploration of this strategic mineral commodity along with other associated precious metals on fast track basis in the already known prospective areas of the Country. In this context it is worth mentioning here that PCST is already undertaking an exercise on technology foresight in the mineral sector. The purpose of this big idea initiated by PCST is to identify and respond to emerging opportunities in markets and technologies in the mineral industry of Pakistan. Therefore, being the highest Science & Technology policy forum, PCST must pay its role for bringing a breakthrough for the Nation.