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Cobalt Resource Status and Supply

12. 01, 2020

Cobalt is widely distributed on Earth, but is present in very low concentrations, mainly in nature in the form of homogeneous forms or inclusions. Cobalt is mainly associated with copper and nickel, and only 17% of cobalt resources are independent.

Since 2000, the world's production of cobalt from mines has climbed rapidly, with world mine cobalt production (metal volume) of 124,000 tons in 2015, an increase of 2.7 times compared to 2000, with an average annual growth rate of 9.2%. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the country with the highest output and the fastest growth rate, driving the rapid increase in global cobalt production, with 63,000 tons of cobalt from DRC mines in 2015, accounting for 54% of the world's production, which is nine times the production in 2000, with an average annual growth rate of 15.8%.

Current production capacity of cobalt mines

According to incomplete statistics, in 2013, the global cobalt production capacity of mines was 130,000 tons, mainly distributed in DRC, Zambia, Australia, New Caledonia and other countries; among them, DRC's cobalt production capacity ranks first in the world. As far as mining holding companies are concerned, developed Western countries control more than half of the production capacity.

There are few pure cobalt deposits (cobalt arsenide, cobalt sulfide, and cobalt-earth deposits) in the world, and cobalt resources are mainly associated with laterite-type nickel deposits, mafic copper-nickel sulfide deposits, and sandstone-type copper deposits. The lateritic nickel deposits are mainly found in the equatorial countries of Cuba, New Caledonia and the Philippines; the magmatic copper-nickel sulphide deposits are mainly found in Russia, Canada, Australia and China; and the sandstone copper deposits are mainly found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambia. In addition, manganese nodules in the deep seabed and seamounts of the oceans contain a large amount of cobalt, which is mainly distributed in the Pacific Ocean and is an important potential replacement resource for the future.

COBALT METAL PIECE

The world is rich in cobalt resources and their distribution is concentrated. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) 2016 Mineral Commodity Summaries, in 2015, the world's cobalt reserves amounted to 7.1 million tons, with a reserve to production ratio of 57 years. The world's cobalt reserves are mainly concentrated in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Australia, Cuba, New Caledonia, Zambia and Russia, accounting for about 80% of the world's total cobalt reserves.

With 3.4 million tons of cobalt reserves, the DRC ranks first in the world, accounting for 48% of the world's cobalt reserves. As cobalt resources have been exploited, the DRC's reserve to production ratio has declined from 286 in 2000 to 54, while Australia's reserve to production ratio is on the rise.

Currently, the majority of the world's cobalt supply comes from the Republic of Congo, accounting for more than 55% of the total. It is followed by Australia and China. All of the cobalt currently used in Europe is produced in Finland.    

Future trends in cobalt from mines

At present, global investment in cobalt resources is mainly concentrated in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Zambia, Canada, Australia and Cuba, with 63 investment projects in 2012, an increase of 54% over 2011, and an increase of 26 projects by 2016. In the future, investment in cobalt resource development will continue to be concentrated in Africa, North America and Australia.

From 2015-2025, cobalt production from mines in Central Africa (DRC, Zambia) will increase 1.3 times from the current 68,000 tons to 153,700 tons, with an average annual growth rate of 8.5%, and will remain dominant at around 55% of global production for the long term. Australia, North America (US, Canada) and Southeast Asia (Philippines, Indonesia, New Caledonia) will also see rapid growth in production.