Cobalt is mostly mined as a by-product of copper or nickel with the copper-cobalt sulphide deposits of the Central African Copper belt being the principal source. The DRC dominates global mine production and accounted for roughly 60% of global supply in 2015. Nickel operations in Cuba, Russia and Australia are also important sources. Refined production reached a peak of nearly 98kt in 2015, with production of cobalt chemicals representing nearly two-thirds of that total.
The chemicals are consumed in catalysts, pigments and decolourisers, and soaps and dryers, but rechargeable batteries are by far the largest market. With battery requirements shifting towards electric vehicles and energy storage systems, Roskill expects the share of high-cobalt containing cathode technologies to decrease in favour of nickel-rich and iron phosphate cathodes. This changing picture still leads to a positive outlook for demand, as cobalt is used as an additive.
The outlook is also positive for cobalt metal demand. The refined metal is mostly consumed in nickel alloys, tool materials and magnets. Strong demand from the aerospace and industrial manufacturing sectors in particular is expected to translate into steady growth in demand for the metal over the period to 2026.