When First Cobalt acquired the Yukon Refinery in 2017, Trent Mell and his crew weren't really sure what they had picked up.
The Toronto-based junior miner was part of a staking rush three years ago around the historic silver mining town of Cobalt.
The grey metal, once regarded as a waste byproduct during the area's silver rush of the early 1900s, was in demand as a critical ingredient in the burgeoning electrical vehicle battery market.
The shuttered refinery was included in a merger deal as First Cobalt sought to consolidate 100 square kilometres of exploration properties in northeastern Ontario.
"When we did the deal, people were looking for pounds in the ground," said Mell, the company's president and CEO.
"As a non-cash flowing junior, you look at it and say, what am I getting myself into?"
It's been a serendipitous journey for First Cobalt through boom, bust and a resilient cobalt market over the last three years.
Mell anticipates an exciting year in 2020 as he awaits the results of a feasibility study, due out in early April, on the estimated costs of a refinery restart that could happen as early as this November.
Located on the outskirts of town, the refinery was mothballed in 2015 when its ; Swiss owners ran out of money.
The hydrometallurgical facility had operated in starts and stops, processing small I batches of difficult-to-process feeds on very limited runs.
One train of thought within the company was they had inherited a potential liability with the buildings and a tailings area.
"We took it on, not really knowing at the outset how we were going to monetize that over the short term," said Mell.
When cobalt prices started to crash in early 2018 and exploration financing dried up, the company took a second look at the plant they picked up, almost as an afterthought.
Upon further examination, they discovered they possessed the only permitted cobalt extraction refinery in North America.
Their strategy now is to position the refinery as an international toll-processing operation.
The revenue generated will be funneled back into their exploration properties in Idaho and northeastern Ontario, none of which are advanced enough to provide feedstock for the plant.
The almost turnkey plant would receive cobalt hydroxide from around the world to process it into cobalt sulfate, used for the cathode part of lithium-ion batteries.
The Democratic Republic of Congo produces 60 per cent of the world's cobalt supply. China dominates the cobalt...