Congo is the leading cobalt producing country, accounting for more than 60% of the world’s cobalt production of 140 million metric tonnes in 2018. Cobalt is mostly mined as a byproduct of either copper or nickel. China is the leading consumer of cobalt, driven by the demand from its rechargeable battery industry.

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Image: Cobalt, fraction of a cathode, 2 x 2 cm. Photo courtesy of Jurii/Wikipedia.

Congo – 90,000t

Home to some of the biggest cobalt mines in the world, Congo produces cobalt majorly from its Katanga Province, which hosts mines such as Tenke Fungurume, Mutanda, and Ruashi, among others. The country has approximately 3.4 million tonnes of cobalt reserves.

In 2018, the Tenke Fungurume recorded a run-of-mine (ROM) production of 9.363 million metric tons (Mmtpa) of cobalt and copper. China Moly, which was already the majority owner of Tenke Fungurume, signed a deal in January 2019 to increase its stake in the mine to 80%.

The Tenke Fungurume mine is claimed to hold one of the world’s biggest known copper and cobalt resources. The Mutanda mine reported ROM production of 7.333mmtpa of cobalt and copper in 2018.

Cobalt projects that are currently in exploration stage in Congo include Maboudou Project and Congo Project. The Maboudou project’s land package covers nearly 3,000km2.

Cobalt is a ferromagnetic, ductile metal, which is very similar to iron, but is much rarer. Photo courtesy of Hi-Res Images of Chemical Elements/Wikimedia Commons.

Russia – 5,900t

Cobalt mining activity in Russia, which has an estimated 250,000t of cobalt reserves, is mainly concentrated in the Altai Republic area, which hosts mines such as Karakul, Kuruozek, Olendzhular, and Toshtuozek.

Other major cobalt mines operational in the country include Khovu-Aksynskoe mine and Rogozhinsky deposit. Located in Zeysky, Amur Oblast, the Urals Nickel-owned Rogozhinsky deposit recorded a ROM production capacity of 0.137Mmtpa in 2018.

Russia’s diversified mining and metallurgical company PJSC MMC Norilsk Nickel is claimed to be the country’s leading producer of cobalt. The company’s production unit Kola Mining and Metallurgical Company produced the first electrolytic cobalt in 2015 as part of strategic cobalt production investment project.

Gulinskoye Nickel Cobalt Project, Norilsk-1 Project, Maslovskoe Project, and Kingashsky Project are some of the cobalt projects that have reached exploration stage in the country.

Cuba – 4,900t

Most of Cuba’s cobalt deposits are located in the Moa area, which has been exploited in part by a Moa, a joint venture of Sherritt International and General Nickel Company. The country has 500,000t of cobalt reserves.

The country also produces cobalt from the Ernesto Che Guevara mine located in Punta Gorda, Holguin as well as Ernesto Che Guevara Mine located in Punta Gorda. The two projects are owned by Government of Cuba and operated by EmpresaNiquelífera Ernesto Che Guevara.

Australia – 4,700t

The Glencore-owned Murrin Murrin Mine is one of the major cobalt mines in Australia. Located in Laverton, Western Australia, it produced approximately 3.59Mmtpa of cobalt in 2018. Glencore produces cobalt as a by-product of nickel mining in Australia. The country’s cobalt reserves stand at 1.2Mt.

The Nova Bollinger Project owned by Independence Group NL and located in Fraser Range, Western Australia, contributed 1.51Mmtpa to the country’s total cobalt production in 2018.

Other cobalt mines in the country include Metallica Minerals-owned Lucky Break Project located in Charters Towers, Queensland, Wannaway mine in Western Australia, and Nico Young deposit located 25km north-west of Young, New South Wales.

More than 100 cobalt projects are currently in exploration stage in the country, while an additional 18 have reached feasibility stage. Quicksilver Nickel Cobolt Project, Midas Project, Copperado Project, and Weld Range Complex Project are some of the exploration projects.

Glencore produces cobalt as a by-product of nickel mining in Australia. Photo courtesy of Glencore.

The Philippines – 4,600t

Major cobalt mines in the Philippines include the AdlayCagdianaoTandawa Project owned by CTP Construction and Mining and the Agata DSO open-cut project located in Tubay, Agusan del Norte, which reported ROM production of 1.94Mmtpa and 1.07Mmtpa in 2018, respectively. The Philippines holds cobalt reserves of 280,000Mt.

Other major cobalt mines in the country include the Coral Bay Project in Bataraza, and the Palawan and Santa Cruz cobalt-nickel projects in Santa Cruz, Zambales. The two projects have respectively produced 0.55Mmtpa and 0.001Mmtpa of ROM cobalt in 2018.

Zambales Project, Alpha Project, Botolan Project, and Agata North Project are the four cobalt projects that are currently in exploration stage in the country, while two projects Mindoro and Acoje are in feasibility stage.

Canada – 3,800t

With reserves of 250,000Mt, Canada is the world’s fifth biggest cobalt reserves holder. The major cobalt producing mines in Canada are the Voisey’s Bay Mine (2.37Mmtpa in 2018) in Labrador owned by Vale, the Sudbury Area Mine (2Mmtpa in 2018) in Ontario owned by Glencore, and the Nunavik Mine (1.34Mmtpa in 2018) in Quebec owned by Jilin Jien Nickel Industry.

Glencore and Vale also own the Raglan Mines (1.25Mmtpa in 2018) in Quebec and the Thompson Mine (1.22Mmtpa in 2018) in Manitoba, respectively.

Some of the potentially upcoming cobalt mining projects in Canada are the $991m Dumont Project in Quebec owned by Royal Nickel Corp and Waterton Global Resource Management, the $500m Minago Mine in Manitoba owned by Victory Nickel, the $500m NICO Project in Northwest Territories owned by Fortune Minerals, and a $1.7bn expansion project at the Voisey’s Bay Mine.

The Voisey’s Bay Mine in Labrador is one of the major cobalt producers in Canada. Photo courtesy of Joshua Duggan/Wikimedia Commons.

Madagascar – 3,500t

Cobalt production in Madagascar, which has 140,000Mt of reserves, currently comes from the $8bn Ambatovy nickel and cobalt project (4.18Mmtpa in 2018) owned by Sherritt International, Sumitomo, and Korea Resources.

Located in the Atsinanana state, the Ambatovy Project began production in 2014 using open-pit mining method. The ore body at the mine features the Ambatovy and Analamay deposits.

The associated ore preparation plant of the nickel and cobalt project located at the mine site separates the soft lateritic soil from rock and waste material. The slurried ore produced from the combination of laterite and water is pumped into a pipeline that connects the mine to the plant site located 220km away.

Papua New Guinea – 3,200t

The $2.1bn Ramu cobalt and nickel project is a major cobalt producing mine in Papua New Guinea (PNG), which has 56,000Mt of cobalt reserves. Discovered in 1962, the mine is currently owned by MCC RamuNiCo, Highlands Pacific, and the PNG Government and Landowners. Located in the Madang state, the cobalt and nickel project has been in production since 2012.

Also known as Kurumbukari, the Ramu Project had a 2018 ROM production of 5.94Mmtpa. The mine is connected by a 135km pipeline from the Kurumbukari plateau to the Basamuk processing plant, which is designed to produce mixed hydroxide product containing nickel and cobalt.

Some of the cobalt producing assets that will commence operations in the coming years include the Mambare Project owned by Direct Nickel and Regency Mines and the Leonard Schultz-EL 1597 Project owned by Frontier Resources.

Both the assets are currently in exploration stage, while another cobalt asset called Wowo Gap Project owned by Resource Mining is in the feasibility stage.

China – 3,100t

With 80,000Mt of cobalt reserves, China currently produces cobalt from the Qinghai Deerni copper-zinc-cobalt project owned by Zijin Mining Group in the Qinghai province. The Qinghai Deerni Project, which employs the open-pit mining method, had a ROM production of 1.13Mmtpa in 2018. The Qinghai Deerni mine has been in production since 2007.

Another mine expected to add up to the cobalt production in China is the Huangshan copper-nickel-cobalt project owned by Xinjiang Xinxin Mining Industry. Located in the Xinjiang region, the Huangshan project, which will involve a capital expenditure of $153m, is in the construction stage, with production planned to be started in 2019.

China’s cobalt production is expected to increase with the Kang Dian Project’s completion. Currently in the feasibility phase, the Kang Dian Project in Sichuan is owned by Silvercorp Metals.

Morocco – 2,300t

Morocco’s cobalt production comes from the Bou-Azzer mine owned by Managem International. The cobalt deposit, at which exploration-related work began way back in 1928, employs the cut-and-fill underground mining method.

Located 120km south of Ouarzazate, in the Souss-Massa-Draa region, the Bou-Azzer mine is operated by Compagnie de TifnoutTighanimine (CTT) on behalf of Managem International. The mine has a workforce of approximately 1,600 people and is currently estimated to have an ROM production of 0.51Mtpa.

Morocco has 17,000Mt of cobalt reserves.