Ever wonder about the largest cobalt producing countries in the world? Try to remember that time in 8th grade when you were forced to cram the periodic table by heart. Now think about Group 9 in Block D with the symbol Co and atomic number 27, popularly known as Cobalt. Back then, we could never predict who the producers of this element would turn out to be. By the way we recently published our article about the 13 largest bauxite producing countries.
First, let’s enlighten ourselves with its history and significance to understand the reason behind its production. In 1730, Swedish Chemist Georg Brandt stumbled upon some local copper workings and thereto became interested in it’s dark blue ore, which he later referred to as the new “semi-metal” and “Cobalt”, named after its German name “Goblin Ore”. Cobalt compounds have been used for centuries to impart a rich blue color to glass, gazes and ceramics. It has been detected in Egyptian sculpture, Persian jewelry, ruins of Pompeii and China, most notably from the Tang and Ming Dynasty. Vincent Van Gogh once stated, “Cobalt is a divine color and there is nothing as fine for putting an atmosphere round things.”
Moving into its daily practicality, Cobalt can be used in jet turbines and gas turbine generators, electroplating, in paint, porcelain, glass, pottery and enamels, to treat cancer, and is found to be an active site of Vitamin B12.
Now the first country to recognize its significance was the Democratic Republic of the Congo who, as of today, holds at least 51% of the reserves. By 2015, this country supplied 60% of the world cobalt production. Except for Morocco and artisanal mined cobalt in Congo, most cobalt is mined as a byproduct of copper or nickel. But production started to dissipate when human rights activist researched and confirmed the use of child labor and poor working conditions within the country along with outbreaks of violence and years of armed conflict and displaced populations.
To grab this momentous opportunity of production came Cuba who, as of today, is the ninth largest producer of Cobalt and the third country to have natural reserves of at least 7%. Australia runs up third in the production with the second largest reserves at 17% and is a big contender due to some electric car makers calling for increased electric car battery production outside the African country. Meanwhile, China is the world’s leading consumer of cobalt with more than 80% of its consumption being used by the rechargeable battery industry. This creates an opportunity for other countries to actually export to China and improve their economy while simultaneously creating jobs for its own countrymen. Unfortunately, due to the meager reserves of the US, we can’t really take advantage of this opportunity. However, would the US have taken advantage even if it did have the opportunity? Looking at the capitalistic nature of this country, outsourcing anything just to save a few bucks, it certainly seems extremely unlikely.
During the first 7 months of 2019, cobalt prices generally trended downward due to oversupply and consumer destocking and deferral of purchases. In early August, a Switzerland-based producer announced its plan to place its world-leading cobalt mine on care-and-maintenance. Following this announcement, cobalt prices increased, then stabilized. Now let’s go ahead and look at the 13 largest cobalt producing countries in the world using the USGS 2019 and 2018 figures, which have been determined based on their 2018 and 2019 productions as per the Mineral Commodities Survey 2020: