To strengthen America’s mineral independence, Westwin Elements is building the only major nickel and cobalt refinery in the United States. Westwin’s refinery complex will produce advanced metals for vital sectors like the defense industrial base, as well as the aerospace, transportation, and manufacturing industries.
In a significant milestone, over 100 investors, government officials, and industry executives came together last month to commemorate the groundbreaking of Westwin Elements’ pilot plant in Lawton, Oklahoma. This facility is poised to become the sole cobalt and nickel refinery in the nation when it commences operations next year.
This development is particularly timely as both the U.S. government and industry leaders are increasingly recognizing the strategic significance of critical minerals. On one side, the Biden administration acknowledges the massive quantities of cobalt, nickel, lithium, manganese, and graphite required for its investments in the electric-vehicle sector. On the other side, there is growing concern about China’s dominance in the critical-mineral supply chain, described as “OPEC squared” by mining executive Tom Albanese, which poses potential security risks.
The Lawton refinery represents a vital step toward reducing mineral dependency, focusing on the refining phase, where valuable minerals are separated from raw ore. This marks an essential move for the United States, as it currently heavily relies on foreign refining, with China processing a substantial portion of the world’s cobalt and nickel.
While Westwin’s pilot project may seem modest, with an initial production capacity of around 200 tons of cobalt and nickel annually starting in March 2024, its significance transcends its size. Over the next decade, Westwin aims to rapidly scale up production to 64,000 tons of nickel and 20,000 tons of cobalt per year by 2030.
The project employs an innovative and cleaner refining method known as the carbonyl process. However, navigating the complex U.S. regulatory landscape remains a challenge. Westwin benefits from Oklahoma’s favorable environment for mineral projects, and public-private partnerships and government support will play a pivotal role in the industry’s growth.
In conclusion, the groundbreaking of America’s only cobalt and nickel refinery is a significant step in securing the nation’s critical mineral supply chain, reducing reliance on foreign sources, and ensuring national security in an increasingly competitive global landscape.