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 2022, Canada produced more than 3,000 tonnes of cobalt with 40% from Ontario and the rest from Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba, and Quebec.
- Canada’s cobalt and cobalt product exports were valued at $793.2 million in 2022.
- 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. Stationary energy battery storage accounts for a small but emerging portion of cobalt use.
Cobalt is also used in high-strength superalloys that are primarily used in aerospace applications. Industrial processes use cobalt in various 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.
Cobalt, global uses, 2022
This circular chart shows the major global uses of cobalt as of 2022. The largest use was for electric vehicles (40%); followed by batteries for portable devices (30%); superalloys (9%); hard metals (5%); catalysts (3%); ceramics/colours (3%); and others (10%).
In 2022, Canada produced an estimated 3,063 tonnes of cobalt in concentrate from primary nickel mines located in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, and Newfoundland and Labrador. This is a 23% decrease from 3,953 tonnes in 2021 and lower than the high of 5,039 tonnes in 2019. Mines in Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador accounted for 40% and 30% of cobalt mine production in Canada, respectively.
In 2022, Canada also produced 5,501 tonnes of refined cobalt at four refineries located in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta; Port Colborne, Ontario; Thompson, Manitoba; and Long Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador.
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, 2013–2022 (p)
This bar graph shows Canada's annual mine production of cobalt from 2013 to 2022. In 2013, cobalt production in Canada was 4,005 tonnes. 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 3,834 tonnes in 2021 and decreased another 23% to 3,063 tonnes in 2022.
Canadian refined production of cobalt, 2013–2022 (p)
This bar graph shows Canada's refined production of cobalt from 2013 to 2022. In 2013, 7,168 tonnes of refined cobalt were produced, which decreased 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 5,965 tonnes in 2020, 5,821 tonnes in 2021, and again in 2022 to 5,501 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 global producer of cobalt, accounting for 70% of world production. Because of its rapidly growing nickel industry, Indonesia recently became the world’s second-largest producer of cobalt, accounting for 5% of global production. 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.
Canada ranks seventh in the world for cobalt production, contributing 2% of the global total.
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||130,000||70.3%|
|8||Papua New Guinea||3,000||1.6%|
In 2022, world reserves of cobalt were estimated to be approximately 8.3 million tonnes. The Democratic Republic of Congo has the largest known reserves of cobalt, making up 48% of the world total. Canada ranks seventh in the world with 220,000 tonnes.
In 2022, 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||4,000,000||47.9%|
- The total value of Canadian exports of cobalt and articles that contain cobalt was $793.2 million in 2022, which is a 41% increase from $562.4 million in 2021. Articles that contain cobalt include intermediate products of cobalt metallurgy, waste, and scrap.
- Most of the Canadian cobalt was exported to Norway (26%); followed by Japan (13%), the Netherlands (12%), China (12%), and the United States (10%).
- The total value of Canadian imports of cobalt and articles that contain cobalt was $114.5 million in 2022, which is a 50% increase from $76.2 million in 2021. 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 (16%), Finland (15%), and South Africa (11%). Canada also imported cobalt products from an additional 20 countries.
Cobalt prices were relatively consistent from 2013 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 growing 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 of US$33,000 per tonne because of 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 US$31,000 per tonne in 2020. Near the end of the 2020, prices began to increase again to around US$52,000 per tonne in 2021 and to US$64,000 per tonne in 2022.
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, 2013–2022 (p)
This line graph shows the average annual price in US dollars per tonne of cobalt from 2013 to 2022. Values are nominal values based on average spot prices from the London Metal Exchange for cobalt and rounded to the nearest thousand. In 2013, the average spot price was approximately $27,000 per tonne. Between 2013 and 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, before increasing to $52,000 per tonne in 2021. By 2022, the average annual price increased to $64,000 per tonne.
A cobalt sulfate refinery in Timiskaming, Ontario, delivered its first shipment of nickel and cobalt from recycled battery material in July 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, 2022
- Cobalt Market Report 2022, Cobalt Institute
- Canadian mine production of cobalt, 2013–2022 (p)
- Natural Resources Canada, Statistics Canada
- Canadian refined production of cobalt, 2013–2022 (p)
- Natural Resources Canada, Statistics Canada; U.S. Geological Survey Minerals Yearbook 2015, v. I, Metals and Minerals; U.S. Geological Survey Minerals Yearbook 2022, 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, 2022 (p)
- U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries, January 2023
- World reserves of cobalt, by country, 2022
- U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries, January 2023
- 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, 2013–2022 (p)
- Cobalt Market Report 2022, Cobalt Institute; U.S. Geological Survey Minerals Yearbook 2022, v. I, Metals and Minerals
- Recovery of cobalt in batteries
- Company press releases
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