Cobalt is a hard, lustrous, silver-grey metal that is used primarily as a cathode material in lithium ion and other types of batteries. It is also used in powerful magnets, cutting tools and high-strength alloys in the aeronautical, energy and defense sectors. Cobalt compounds have been used for centuries as a pigment for pottery, glass, paints and other media. Cobalt is also an important part of human nutrition as part of vitamin B12.
- In 2021, Canada produced more than 3,800 tonnes of cobalt with 36% from Newfoundland and Labrador and the rest from Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec.
- Canada’s cobalt and cobalt product exports were valued at $562.4 million in 2021.
- All of Canada’s current cobalt production is as a secondary product of nickel mining.
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Batteries are the main end use for cobalt as a cathode material. Electric vehicles currently dominate use, but lithium-ion batteries in cell phones and laptops also consume a sizeable quantity of global cobalt.
An emerging cobalt use in batteries is as stationary energy storage, but its current share of the market is very small. Industrial uses of cobalt include use in more metal and chemical products. Metal applications include cemented carbides, alloys, magnets and diamond tools. Chemical applications have a wide range, from pigments, inks, catalysts, and tires to driers. High-strength superalloys containing cobalt are used primarily for aerospace applications.
Cobalt, global uses, 2021
This circular chart shows the major global uses of cobalt as of 2021. The largest use was for electric vehicles (34%); followed by other battery applications (31%); industrial metals (14%); industrial chemicals; and superalloys (11%).
In 2021, Canada produced an estimated 3,834 tonnes of cobalt in concentrate from primary nickel mines located in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, and Newfoundland and Labrador. This is a 14% decrease from 4,474 tonnes in 2020 and lower than the high of 5,039 tonnes in 2019.
The decrease in production in 2021 is attributed to a labour disruption in Sudbury. Additionally, the temporary shutdowns of facilities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic led to decreased production in 2020 and 2021. Mines in Newfoundland and Labrador and Ontario accounted for 36% and 30% of cobalt mine production in Canada, respectively.
In 2020, Canada also produced 5,965 tonnes of refined cobalt at four refineries located in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta; Port Colborne, Ontario; Thompson, Manitoba; and Long Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador. While most of the monthly 2021 production data are suppressed by the source for confidentiality purposes, a decline for the available months of September through December point to an anticipated decline in production for 2021.
It is worth noting that refined cobalt production is higher than cobalt mine production because Canadian refineries process nickel and cobalt from imported materials, mostly from mines in the United States and Cuba.
Future production of cobalt is anticipated to continue to come mostly from primary nickel mines in Canada. One exception, currently at the advanced exploration stage, is the NICO deposit in the Northwest Territories, which is a cobalt-gold-bismuth-copper deposit.
Canadian mine production of cobalt, 2012–2021 (p)
This bar graph shows Canada's annual mine production of cobalt from 2012 to 2021. In 2012, cobalt production in Canada was 3,698 tonnes, increasing to 4,005 tonnes in 2013. It decreased slightly to 3,907 tonnes in 2014, increasing again in 2015 to 4,339 tonnes. In 2018, it decreased gradually to a low of 3,279 tonnes. After a dramatic increase in 2019 to 5,039 tonnes, production decreased to 4,474 tonnes in 2020 and decreased another 14% to 3,834 tonnes in 2021.
Canadian refined production of cobalt, 2012–2021 (e, p)
This bar graph shows Canada's refined production of cobalt from 2012 to 2021. In 2012, 6,836 tonnes of refined cobalt were produced, which increased to 7,168 tonnes in 2013 before decreasing to 6,126 tonnes in 2015. Between 2016 and 2018, refined cobalt production remained relatively steady, ranging from 6,302 tonnes in 2016 to 6,355 tonnes in 2017.
Refined cobalt production decreased to 6,075 tonnes in 2019 and again in 2020 to 5,965 tonnes. The value of 5,821 tonnes for 2021 was estimated based on historical data for January to August, which were suppressed by the source for confidentiality and reported data for September to December.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is the largest producer of cobalt in the world, accounting for 73% of world production. Canada ranks sixth in the world for cobalt production, contributing only 2% of the global total. Cobalt is mined mostly as a by-product of copper or nickel mining, with the exceptions of artisanal mining in Congo and production in Morocco.
China is the top producer of refined cobalt. Most of the concentrate or raw ore comes originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo and domestic sources. China is also the top consumer of cobalt, with most being used in battery manufacturing.
|Ranking||Country||Thousand tonnes||Percentage of total|
|1||Democratic Republic of Congo||120,000||72.8%|
|7||Papua New Guinea||3,000||1.8%|
In 2021, the world reserves of cobalt were estimated to be approximately 7.6 million tonnes. The Democratic Republic of Congo has the largest known reserves of cobalt, making up 46% of the world total. Canada ranks seventh in the world with 220,000 tonnes of cobalt reserves.
In 2021, cobalt terrestrial resources were estimated to be approximately 25 million tonnes, and global ocean resources were estimated to be 120 million tonnes.
The terrestrial resources are found mostly in sediment-hosted stratiform copper deposits in the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, there are significant quantities of cobalt as a secondary or tertiary mineral in nickel-bearing laterites in Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Cuba and in magmatic nickel-copper sulphide deposits in Canada, Australia, the United States and Russia.
Cobalt resources have also been identified in polymetallic nodules on the sea floor.
|Ranking||Country||Tonnes||Percentage of total|
|1||Democratic Republic of Congo||3,500,000||45.8%|
- The total value of Canadian exports of cobalt and articles that contain cobalt was $562.4 million in 2021, which is a 48% increase from $379.2 million in 2020. Articles that contain cobalt include intermediate products of cobalt metallurgy, waste, and scrap.
- Most of the Canadian cobalt was exported to Norway (29%); followed by China (17%), the Netherlands (15%), the United States (10%) and Japan (10%).
- The total value of Canadian imports of cobalt and articles that contain cobalt was $76.2 million in 2021, which is a 42% increase from $53.5 million in 2020. Articles that contain cobalt include intermediate products of cobalt metallurgy, waste, and scrap.
- Canada imported cobalt mainly from the United States (41%); followed by Australia (10%), Finland (7%), South Africa (6%) and the United Kingdom (6%). Canada also imported cobalt products from an additional 23 countries.
Cobalt prices were relatively consistent from 2012 to 2016, averaging between US$26,000 and US$30,000 per tonne, but increased dramatically in 2017 to an average of US$56,000 per tonne. In 2018, the price rose to US$73,000 per tonne and peaked at US$95,000 per tonne in March 2018.
The price increase was driven primarily by increased demand for cobalt in lithium ion batteries and by global policy initiatives as governments around the world began to set net zero targets for emissions. Concerns over supply also contributed to the price increase. However, in 2019, the price decreased dramatically to an average price of US$33,000 per tonne. This price change was caused by increased output from the Democratic Republic of Congo and the stockpiling of cobalt chemicals in China.
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many end-use sectors for cobalt in 2020, decreasing demand, further lowering the price to an average of $US31,000 per tonne in 2020. Near the end of the 2020, prices began to increase again to around US$47,000 per tonne in the first half of 2021 and to US$62,000 per tonne by the last quarter of 2021.
Growing demand in the electric vehicle sector was the main driver behind increasing prices. Cobalt is considered the most expensive of the battery metals, leading many countries and companies to invest in research and development for lithium ion battery alternatives that do not use cobalt.
Cobalt, annual average prices, 2012–2021
This line graph shows the average annual price in US dollars per tonne of cobalt from 2012 to 2021. Values are nominal values based on average spot prices from London Metal Exchange for cobalt and rounded to the nearest thousand. In 2012, the average spot price was approximately $35,000 per tonne, which decreased to $27,000 per tonne in 2013.
Between 2012 to 2016, the annual average cobalt price ranged from $26,000 and $30,000 per tonne but increased dramatically to $56,000 per tonne in 2017 and $73,000 per tonne in 2018. The prices remained lower in 2019 and 2020, at an annual average of $33,000 per tonne and $31,000 per tonne, respectively. By 2021, the average annual price increased to $52,000 per tonne.
A cobalt sulfate refinery in Timiskaming, Ontario, is scheduled to begin production in 2022. They want to begin recycling batteries to extract cobalt and other minerals from lithium ion batteries in 2023. Another company in the same region has also piloted hydrometallurgical processes for recycling cobalt.
Notes and sources
Totals may be different because of rounding.
All dollars are Canadian unless otherwise indicated.
- Cobalt, global uses, 2021
- Cobalt Market Report 2021, Cobalt Institute
- Canadian mine production of cobalt, 2012–2021 (p)
- Natural Resources Canada, Statistics Canada
- Canadian refined production of cobalt, 2012–2021 (e, p)
- Natural Resources Canada, Statistics Canada; U.S. Geological Survey Minerals Yearbook 2015, v. I, Metals and Minerals; U.S. Geological Survey Minerals Yearbook 2019, v. I, Metals and Minerals.
- The value for 2021 was estimated based on a combination of historical and reported data.
- World mine production of cobalt, by country, 2021 (p)
- U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries, January 2022
- World reserves of cobalt, by country, 2021 (p)
- U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries, January 2022
- Natural Resources Canada; Statistics Canada
- Mineral trade includes ores, concentrates, and semi- and final-fabricated mineral products (HS 8105, HS 2822).
- Cobalt, annual average prices, 2012–2022
- Cobalt Market Report 2021, Cobalt Institute; U.S. Geological Survey Minerals Yearbook 2015, v. I, Metals and Minerals; U.S. Geological Survey Minerals Yearbook 2019, v. I, Metals and Minerals
- Recovery of cobalt in batteries
- Company press releases
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