First Cobalt Corp. is seeking to speed up its timetable to begin producing cobalt, riding the wave of interest in the metal used in electric-vehicle batteries and smartphones.

The Vancouver-based exploration company agreed to buy explorer US Cobalt Inc., which has properties in Idaho, in an all-stock deal with an implied equity value of about C$149.9 million ($116 million). Trading in the two companies’ shares was suspended.

“We’re trying to fast-track our way into North American mining and refining,” First Cobalt Chief Executive Officer Trent Mell said in an interview.

The price of cobalt has more than tripled in the last 18 months amid fears of a looming shortage. Electric-vehicle and smartphone manufacturers from Volkswagen AG to Apple Inc. have been racing to lock down cobalt contracts. But most of the world’s cobalt is mined as a by-product found with other metals such as nickel and copper, and most comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a jurisdiction that’s become increasingly problematic.

First Cobalt is a pure-play on the metal -- albeit an early-stage one -- with assets in Canada. It’s been seeking to stitch together a parcel of 50 abandoned silver mines and re-purpose them as an open-pit cobalt mine in the aptly-named town of Cobalt, Ontario.

The outcome of that exploration is still “TBD” but the company would like to leverage an existing refinery in the camp long before it builds a mine on the site, Mell said. US Cobalt is further along the track to production and Mell would like to refine cobalt mined in Idaho in Ontario.

“It’s still a few years away, certainly three years, but it gives us a clear path,” Mell said of US Cobalt’s time-line to production. “The opportunity here is to have cobalt mining and refining right here in North America.”

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