Cobalt Properties and Applications

Cobalt is considered a strategic metal and as such, is essential to the function of modern society.

  • Cobalt applications range from jet turbines through to gas turbine generators and other applications demanding high temperature strength
  • Cobalt is an element with growing importance in the future energy economy due to its pivotal role in the rechargeable battery sector (for example in electric cars, Tesla Powerwall storage devices, mobile phones, laptop computers), where cobalt is a preferred cathode material. Many lithium-ion batteries contain up to 60% cobalt.

In addition to serving as cathode material in many lithium-ion batteries, cobalt is used in making powerful magnets, high-speed cutting tools, orthopaedic implants, and to colour porcelain, glass, pottery, tiles and enamel, and as an ingredient of vitamin B12, which is important in human nutrition.

The Cobalt Market – Growing Demand

Cobalt is a metal of the future with growing demand in the technology, health and energy sectors. Global demand for refined cobalt is forecast to exceed the 100,000t mark for the first time next year and could exceed 150,000t by 2025 (Source: CRU Group). The rapid growth in demand is attributed to the increasing popularity of lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles and a range of modern electronic devices (for example, mobile phones, tablets, portable computers, power tools), where cobalt offers the highest energy density of the various lithium-ion battery formulas, as summarised in the following table and figure:

Lithium titanate battery
Li4Ti5O12 (LTO)
Lithium iron phosphate battery LiFePO4 (LFP)
Lithium ion manganese oxide battery LiMn2O4, Li2MnO3 (LMO)
Lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide battery LiNiMnCoO2 (NMC) ~ 60% Co
Lithium cobalt oxide battery LiCoO2 (LCO) ~ 10-20% Co
Lithium nickel cobalt aluminium oxide battery LiNiCoAlO2 (NCA) ~ 9% Co

Even the older nickel-cadmium (NiCd) and nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries include cobalt to improve the oxidation of nickel in the battery.

Typical specific energies for nine different battery chemistries: cobalt is a key component of the three highest energy densities (i.e. most energy efficient), and represents ~75% of all lithium-ion batteries.

The Cobalt Market- Supply Constraints

Cobalt is predominantly mined and refined as a by-product of copper and nickel operations, meaning that future supply hinges on developments in these markets. As cobalt demand is forecast to grow at a greater rate than copper and nickel demand, an excess amount of primary metals will need to be mined and refined in order to meet the world’s growing cobalt needs. In other words, major cobalt producers cannot scale up production to match the expected demand.

An incredible 94% of global cobalt supplies come from nickel and copper miners that produce cobalt as a minor by-product. Only 6% of global cobalt supplies come from primary cobalt mines that may be able to increase production in response to growing demand from the battery industry. The balance, however, is sourced mostly from countries with elevated sovereign risk, and/or labour and environmental practices that are a focus of international scrutiny. For example, the conflict-stricken Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC.

Consequently the cobalt supply chain is fragmented due to the dislocation between where cobalt is mined and where the refining intellectual property lies.

This greatly benefits Riva where subject to ongoing exploration success, Tabac will provide both a secure independent source of cobalt and leverage to future market price sensitivities. Riva is potentially uniquely positioned as a front runner with a project that has both the scale and grade to meet the anticipated ever growing global demand.