Cobalt is a clear, greyish-silver, brittle metal that is capable of being magnetized. The material retains its strength at high temperatures and has low thermal and electrical conductivities. Cobalt forms alloys with other metals, imparting strength at high temperatures and the ability to maintain its magnetic properties at high temperatures.*
Cobalt Demand (2o11)
- Batteries (30)
- Superalloys (19)
- Hard materials (13)
- Catalysts (9)
- Colours (9)
- Magnets, all types (7)
- Hard facing/HSG (5)
- Tyre adhesives, soaps and dryers (5)
- Anodising, biotech, foodstuffs,electrolysis 3)
Source: Cobalt Development Institute
Source: LEM staff
Pure cobalt cannot be found in nature, however, compounds are widely distributed in the earth’s crust. Cobalt is almost always a by- or co-product of mining for other base metals, such as nickel or copper. Over 50 % of world cobalt mine production are a by-product from copper. 56 % of worldwide cobalt production is sourced comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.**
Conventional mining methods are applied when extracting cobalt bearing deposits. After mining, ore is crushed and the cobalt-bearing minerals separated using physical and chemical methods, called beneficiation. Processing of cobalt generally begins after the primary metal, that is copper or nickel, has been concentrated and extracted. Common methods for cobalt extraction include pressure acid leaching for hydrometallurgical processing, or heat to separate the metals for pyrometallurgical processing.*
Cobalt is typically produced as powders, briquettes and cathodes. Further, cobalt is produced in a wide variety of forms, such as: refined cobalt, cobalt matte, cobalt alloys and cobalt chemicals. Pure cobalt has limited use but is more common as alloying metal. For industrial uses, cobalt is used in the manufacture of chemical compounds. Rechargeable batteries consume the largest proportion of cobalt in this sector. It is also used as pigment in glass, enamels, pottery and china.*
Cobalt mixed with certain other metals produces superalloys capable of withstanding severe mechanical stresses and temperatures. Cobalt added to nickel-based alloys creates superalloys for use in jet engines and turbines. Magnetic alloys can also be produced when cobalt is alloyed with other metals, with applications in high performance electrical equipment. Aluminum-nickel-cobalt alloy, also known as Alnico, is one of the most versatile cobalt-based magnetic alloys. Cobalt is also an important component of lithium ion batteries. Lithium ion batteries may contain high amounts of cobalt in the form of lithium-cobalt oxide material.*
*Cobalt, British Geological Survey, Natural Environment Research Council, 2009.
**Berenberg Thematics, Berenberg 2016.
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