Cobalt refinery company severs ties with technology provider, goes with in-house engineering team
LAWTON, Okla. (KSWO) - A recent discovery that the company behind the upcoming cobalt refinery in Lawton has broken ties with their technology provider has led to more residents worrying about the environmental impact of the plant.
Back in February of 2023, Westwin Elements, the company who is set to build the first cobalt-nickel refinery in the United States here in Lawton, severed ties with CVMR, another company who owns a patent that was said to make the proposed refinery more environmentally friendly.
In September of 2022, Politico reported that the Westwin Elements plant would be built by CVMR. When that report came out, the location of a plant was yet to be determined.
However, on February 23, 2023, Lawton City Council unanimously voted to approve a plan to build the cobalt refinery in Lawton. This vote came before Westwin Elements and CVMR parted ways.
At the time of the vote, Mayor Stan Booker said that the technology being used to build and operate the potential refinery was environmentally friendly by use of cutting edge technology.
“You know this is cutting edge technology, environmentally friendly, environmentally natural refining of a very important mineral important to our national security,” Mayor Stan Booker said. “That’s one reason why it’s fitting that they choose Lawton-Fort Sill, because we’re such a patriotic community.”
While Lawton officials were secure in their approval of such a plant, some Lawton residents were not.
“Westwin Elements does not have mining or refinery experience,” one Lawton resident said.
“I agree big business needs to come to Lawton, I am all for that, but are we willing to sell our soul out to a company that looks good on the surface, but have not thoroughly researched?” asked another resident.
Richard Rogalski, executive director for the Lawton Economic Development Authority attempted to calm these fears by leaning on the technology that was going to be used within the plant by CVMR, the company that is no longer working with Westwin Elements.
“The company Westwin Elements is only about a year old, but the process real refining brains behind this is a company [called] CVMR, and they’ve been in business for 30 years, and they have 30 patents on this refinement process,” Rogalski said.
Now that the business ties between the two companies have been severed, more questions are arising about the environmental impact the upcoming Lawton refinery will have for the city.
KSWO 7News talked with Westwin Elements on Sept. 8, 2023, when it was discovered that they cut business ties with CVMR to learn more about what is being done to keep the plant environmentally friendly, and to see if the severance caused any hiccups in their plans.
Representatives for Westwin Elements stated that they dissolved business ties with CVMR when they discovered the Canadian company would not be able to meet their production expectations, after a bankable feasibility study was conducted.
When this gap in expectations was discovered, Westwin Elements decided to opt for an in-house engineering team of what they call experts to make sure the plant is as environmentally safe as possible.
The team of seven is made up of individuals that have worked around the globe on similar projects and have doctorate degrees in related fields. For instance, the Director of Safety, Health, and Environment, Chris Thomson, has over 22-years of experience and a PhD in semiconductor process development.
Another one of their engineering members, Tony Davis, who is the Vice President of Regulatory Compliance, worked in the nickel industry in the United Kingdom, Norway, Canada, and Indonesia, and was awarded his PhD for a project on minimizing sulfur dioxide emissions.
Westwin Elements says by having an in-house team instead of an outside partnership it will allow them to have greater control over the technical process of the plant.
KaLeigh Long, the founder of Westwin Elements said back in August of 2023 that the proposed refinery will be critical not only for Oklahoma, but the nation as a whole.
“I just think these materials are too critical for defense, for electrification, for environment. They’re too important for a variety of agendas for anybody to work against them,” said Long.
Officials for Westwin Elements further stated that the breaking of partnership did not force them to change any plans they had about the refinery.
Even though the contract with the city of Lawton had to be reworked due to the ending of the partnership, representatives for Westwin Elements said the plan was always to build a pilot facility that focused on nickel production at first, and then move on to the full fledged refinery.
The pilot facility for the upcoming refinery will start construction in the coming months with operations set to start sometime in 2024.
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