The Ontario-based miner, which has already received approvals for the construction of a plant, confirmed it had recently been approached by several miners and refiners with an interest in purchasing concentrates from the mine, including cobalt sulphate, gold, bismuth ingot and oxide, and copper precipitate.
"If this is pursued, it would enable the company to defer the Saskatchewan refinery, reducing up-front capital by about 50% and mitigating risks in commissioning and downstream processing," it said, adding that it is changing its engineering designs to allow the flexibility to accommodate downstream process options.
Specifically, the company is looking at four potential scenarios, the first to produce a bulk flotation concentrate as currently envisioned, then selling it to a third-party refinery or transporting it to the Saskatchewan province for downstream processing at its planned refining facility there.
Option 2 is to produce separate cobalt-gold concentrate and bismuth-gold concentrate at the mine site and sell either or both to a third party or transport for downstream processing "with facilities configured with only the required unit operations needed to recover the desired metal(s)".
The third possible scenario is to defer the sale of some bismuth to align production with demand. Finally, option 4 involves the phased development of the Saskatchewan refinery parallel to market demand partner needs.
Fortune, which is working with Hatch, P&E Mining Consultants and Micon International to update its 2014 feasibility study, has asked the former of the group to adjust the engineering design as needed in order to move the bulk regrind circuit and secondary flotation process back to its site in NT. It is also evaluating technologies to aid in metal content upgrading, minimising the often-penalised deleterious metals that could be taken on by a third-party plant.
"Although the sale of concentrates was previously investigated by Fortune, the expanded cobalt market, strong future growth and attractive prices have collectively made this into a potentially attractive development option to defer significant up-front capital," it added.
Pending receipt of the balance of regulatory permissions for Nico, Fortune is targeting 2019 for the start of an approximate two-year process to construct the facilities. Unless the refinery portion is set aside, the miner has outlined 18 months for it to be completed. It has targeted the early 2020s to begin operations "as the global automotive industry intensifies electric vehicle production".