Cobalt is a chemical element with an atomic number of 27. It has the symbol Co on the periodic table. Cobalt is found in the Earth’s crust only in a chemically combined form. Some small deposits have also been discovered in alloys of natural meteoric iron.
The free element is produced by reductive smelting to separate it from other minerals and ore. As a refined metal, Cobalt is a hard, lustrous, silver-gray metal.
Cobalt is found in the minerals of cobaltite, skutterudite and erythrite. Most cobalt is formed as a by-product of nickel refining.
Where is Cobalt found?
The largest concentration of cobalt mines are located in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Other large ore deposits have been found in Russia, Australia, Philippines and Canada.
Important ore deposits are found in DR Congo, Canada, Australia, Zambia and Brazil.
The DR Congo accounted for more than two thirds of global cobalt production in 2021, making it the world’s largest cobalt producer by a order of magnitude compared to other countries.
Cobalt is primarily mined as a byproduct of nickel and copper mining. Cobalt is removed from the ore through a process called reductive smelting. It is a primary component used in lithium-ion phosphate (LiFePO or LFP) batteries. It is also used in superalloys for jet engines, chemicals magnets, and cemented carbides for cutting tools.
There are four main methods used for mining cobalt: underground, open surface (pit), placer, and in-situ mining.
The largest cobalt mine in the world is Katanga Complex in the south central region of the DR Congo. It is comprised nine different mines, concentrators and processing plants. Glencore owns 75% of the mining operations, the remaining 25% is owned by government owned companies.