Cobalt research

Cobalt research

The website of the Cobalt Development Institute (CDI) (www.thecdi.com) contains a considerable amount of useful information on cobalt. Several other websites which provide interesting data on cobalt:

Cobalt uses

Cobalt (Co) is a minor metal with many special qualities:

  • Co is hard, heavy and has a high melting point. It used extensively in superalloys and high pressure and temperature resistant metals for use in applications such as in energy turbines, jet motors, military hardware, aircraft and space craft.
  • Co is a major component in many new rechargeable batteries (electric cars, mobile phones, laptop computers). Many lithium-ion batteries contain up to 60% Co.
  • Co is strongly magnetic and is used in magnets, often in preference to Ni, Mn and Fe
  • Co in dyes/pigments has been used for many centuries for bright blue colouring.
  • Co is a principle component of vitamin B12, essential for blood and brain. Co is used in human and animal food supplements.
  • Co is used as; a catalyst, in jewellery, medical isotopes, cosmetics and many other applications.

Figure 9: Cobalt usage by category

Cobalt is a metal of the future with growing demand in technology, health and energy industries of the modern world

Lithium-ion batteries, the main components of electric vehicle motors and many rechargeable batteries, contain as much as 60% cobalt. A sustained cobalt price growth could occur over the next few years as the electric car battery market expands in line with demand for low emission vehicles.

For recent references on how batteries underline the importance of cobalt in future energy industries please see the following articles:

Because cobalt is integral to defence, aerospace, and the energy industry and because cobalt is threatened by supply disruptions due to limited domestic production it is a designated ‘Strategic Metal’ in the USA, China, Japan and Europe.

Figure 10: 2011 Cobalt mine production

Cobalt mining and supply

In summary:

  • Co is mostly produced as a bi-product from some copper or nickel mines
  • From the estimated 98,000t (216 million pounds) of cobalt produced in 2011;
    • Over 60% came from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
    • Over 40% was refined in China
    • Over 80% was consumed by the USA, Japan and the EU
    • No cobalt was mined in the USA, Japan, or the EU
  • The DRC contains about half of the world’s known cobalt resources.

Cobalt is mostly produced as a by-product of either nickel mining or as an additional metal by-product in some copper mines, most of which are located in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in central Africa an area of common social upheaval and high political and economic risk. For a recent article on the uses of cobalt click here.

Cobalt is integral to the defence, aerospace and the energy industries of the major world economies. USA, Japan, China and the European Union have negligible mine production of cobalt despite being the major cobalt users and producers of cobalt products. These countries recognise the threat of cobalt supply disruption and have designated cobalt as a strategic metal.

Clearly, as a by-product, mine production of cobalt from African copper and nickel deposits cannot easily be increased to supply the market in times of high cobalt demand, supply disruption or when the cobalt price undergoes a significant increase. Having relatively high-grade cobalt contained in cobalt-dominant deposits near Broken Hill provides considerable supply advantages for Broken Hill Prospecting for future development of the resources.

Deposits of cobalt of significant size and mine-grade are few and geographically isolated. Near Broken Hill, a distinctive type of deposit has been recognised by BPL and a new depositional model has assisted BPL to successfully find large areas of near-surface cobalt mineralisation.

Broken Hill Prospecting has large cobaltiferous pyrite deposits which could be mined by open cut, can be readily upgraded to a Co-pyrite concentrate and may provide a reliable and alternative source for the world cobalt market.

BPL has several future options…. BPL could mine and export a cobalt-pyrite concentrate, process the concentrate on site or at another location and use one of a number of processing methods.

Cobalt prices

Cobalt prices during the last two years have ranged between US$16-20/lb and the metal has not seen the same recent steep price rises of gold, silver and some base metals, despite peaks of near $50 in 1977 and prior to the Global financial Crisis in 2007. For a chart showing historical cobalt metal prices from 1976 to the present day click here.

Broken Hill Prospecting believes that the current low cobalt prices cannot be maintained and cobalt prices may have a positive future trend due to increasing Co demand, producer country risk and depleting mine grades.