Top Cobalt Mining Countries by Production

Here's a look at 2015's 10 top cobalt-producing countries, based on figures from the US Geological Survey.

Mined Cobalt Chips

The cobalt market continued to rally in 2015, with the help of  Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) plans to build a lithium-ion battery gigafactory to boost sentiment.

Once it’s operating, the gigafactory will require a steady, stable supply of graphite, lithium and cobalt — and more importantly it will require a lot of those materials. Unsurprisingly, prospective cobalt producers have seen share price boosts since the gigafactory was announced, and Tesla’s isn’t the only battery megafactory set to come online either.

With that context, here is a look at the top 10 cobalt producing countries for 2015, as identified by the US Geological Survey (USGS). Cobalt is usually produced as a by-product of copper or nickel, so countries that produce high quantities of those metals generally put out a lot of cobalt as well.

1. Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) 

Mine production: 63,000 metric tons

The DRC is the world’s largest producer of cobalt, accounting for roughly 60 percent of global production. The country has been the top producer of the metal for some time. The DRC’s output in 2015 matched the output for 2014 at 63,000 metric tons.

The Congo will allegedly receive increasing amounts of foreign investment in the coming years, mostly from China, as a result of low production costs and high-quality minerals, according to Mining Weekly.

2. China

Mine production: 7,200 metric tons

China saw no change in its cobalt production from 2014 to 2015. For the first six months of 2015, availability of refined cobalt was 11 percent higher than the same period of 2014, with increased production in China.

That being said, China Molybdenum is poised to become the world’s biggest cobalt producer with its acquisition of Freeport McMoRan‘s (NYSE:FCX) interest in its TF Holdings Limited.

3. Canada

Mine production: 6,300 metric tons

Canada’s 2015 cobalt production dropped slightly to 6,300 from 2014, when the country produced 6,570 metric tons. According to MBendi Information Services, Canada relies on its large nickel and copper miners to produce copper as a byproduct of their normal operations. Some of these major nickel and copper deposits are Kidds Creek, Sudbury and Raglan. However, the country is likely to expand production and identify new sites.

4. Russia

Mine production: 6,300 metric tons

Russia bumped Australia out of the number four spot to become the world’s fourth largest cobalt producer in 2015. Russia’s production remained the same from 2014 to 2015 at 6,300 metric tons. However, last year the global economy faced worry that cobalt, among other items would be restricted due to sanctions established as a result of the Crimea conflict, as noted by Daily Resource Hunter.

Real Clear World noted that in 2014, Russia produced 8 percent of the world’s cobalt. As the metal is derived from copper and nickel mines, this added to global fears about the supply of copper, and added to the factors playing a role in its price increase.

5. Australia

Mine production: 6,500 metric tons

Australia saw a slight increase in its cobalt production from 2014 to 2015, from 5,980 metric tons to 6,000 in 2015. Similar to other countries on this list, the country’s cobalt production is left to nickel and copper mines, as the cobalt is generated as a byproduct. According to MBendi Information Services, the country’s nickel mines are located in the western region of the country, mostly around the Kalgoorlie – Leonara regions.

6. Philippines

Mine production: 4,600 metric tons

The Philippines had an excellent year for cobalt production, jumping ahead of Cuba. Last year, the Philippines produced 4,6000 metric tons of cobalt, the same amount as its 2014 production. This was largely due to the country stepping in to replace the gap left by Indonesia’s ore-export cuts in 2014, according to Bloomberg.

“Indonesia’s ban affected us positively,” said Michael Defensor, chairman of Pax Libera Mining Inc. “We will maximize this window and ship as much as we can.”

Ore exports to China from the Philippines rose 24 percent in the first 10 months of 2014. However, while some industry leaders expect this to only be a temporary situation, Defensor told Bloomberg he plans to continue to deliver as efficiently as possible so that if the ban is lifted the country will still be a global contender.

7. Cuba

Mine production: 4,200 metric tons

Cuban production of cobalt increased from 3,700 in 2014 to 4,200 in 2015. With that in mind, that number will increase in years to come, according to InvestorIntel. This is because of sanctions being removed and relations with the US, which has little cobalt production of its own, are easing.

Specifically, two of Cuba’s largest ore-producing plants were formerly owned by the US. It is anticipated that these mines will expand production and become a major source of imports for the US as relations improve.

8. Zambia

Mine production: 5,500 metric tons

Like a number of other countries, Zambia’s cobalt production for 2015 remained the same as 2014’s, sitting at 5,500 MT for two years straight.

According to Mineweb, Murray and Roberts Cementation, which is an integrated copper and cobalt producer, completed the sinking of its Synclinorium Shaft project for Mopani Copper Mines. Mopani is is the largest copper mine in Zambia, and further, it’s one of the biggest in the world. With this new shaft in place, production and expansion are expected to grow significantly.

9. South Africa

Mine production: 2,800 metric tons

South Africa’s cobalt production dropped in 2015 from 3,000 to 2,800. However, according to an article from May 2014 in Mining Weekly, the country could produce significantly more cobalt if it altered its mining methods. Currently, the country relies on hard-rock, narrow reef mines, but should turn to blast mining.

“If you can selectively separate the reef part of the underground ore reserve and throw the waste rock aside, the cobalt concentration once that ore reaches the surface is very much higher and becomes easier to recover,” said Dr. RE Robinson, research commentator.

Cobalt is largely sourced as a byproduct of the Bushveld platinum mines in South Africa.

10. Brazil

Mine production: 2,600 metric tons

Rounding out the top ten is Brazil, who stayed relatively the same at 2,600 metric tons in both 2014 and 2015. However, while South Africa sticks to less efficient methods of production, Vale (NYSE:VALE) is largely investing in Brazil, currently occupying 14 Brazilian states and looking to expand.

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**This article is update every year. Read above for the most recent information**

The cobalt market was an exciting place to be in 2014, largely due to Tesla Motors’ (NASDAQ:TSLA) announcement that it plans to build a lithium-ion battery gigafactory. 

Once it’s operating, the gigafactory will require a steady, stable supply of graphite, lithium and cobalt — and more importantly it will require a lot of those materials. Unsurprisingly, prospective cobalt producers saw share price boosts as a result.

With that context, it’s interesting to look at global cobalt production numbers for 2014. Here’s a look at the 10 top cobalt-producing countries during that year, as identified by the US Geological Survey (USGS). Cobalt is usually produced as a by-product of copper or nickel, so countries that produce a lot of those metals generally put out a lot of cobalt as well.

1. Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) 

Mine production: 56,000 MT

The DRC is the world’s largest producer of cobalt, and has been for some time. The country’s output in 2014 was superior to that of 2013, which was impressive nonetheless at 54,000 MT.

This increase came during a power shortage at the end of the year that affected production, even causing some mines in the Katanga region (the country’s most significant cobalt-mining area) to halt production, according to Bloomberg. The hope is that electricity issues will not last long — miners in Katanga had already spent or pledged $600 million to improve the power supply to the region in November 2014, and parliament is allowing the electricity industry to privately invest in mining projects.

Most recently, news surfaced that the DRC plans to reopen negotiations regarding revisions to its mining code. The country wants to increase royalties on metals like cobalt from 2 percent to 3.5 percent.

2. China

Mine production: 7,200 MT

China saw no change in its cobalt production from 2013 to 2014. That said, while China is listed as the second-largest producer, it is largely due to the fact the country is a significant purchaser of cobalt concentrate.

Chinese companies manufacture cobalt for use in batteries, magnetic materials, hard alloys and other products. Jinchuan Group International Resources (HKEX:2362), is the largest cobalt producer in China.

3. Canada

Mine production: 7,000 MT

Canada produced more cobalt in 2014 than it did in 2013, which was 6,920 MT. According to MBendi Information Services, Canada relies on its large nickel and copper minersto produce copper as a byproduct of their normal operations. Some of these major nickel and copper deposits are Kidds Creek, Sudbury and Raglan. However, as production rates continue to grow, the country is likely to expand production and identify new sites.

4. Australia

Mine production: 6,500 MT

Australia saw modest growth in its cobalt production from 2013 to 2014. The country produced 6,400 MT in 2013. Similar to other countries on this list, the country’s cobalt production is left to nickel and copper mines, as the cobalt is generated as a byproduct. According to MBendi Information Services, the country’s nickel mines are located in the western region of the country, mostly around the Kalgoorlie – Leonara regions.

5. Russia

Mine production: 6,300 MT

Russia’s production remained stable from 2013 to 2014, though last year the global economy faced worry that cobalt, among other items would be restricted due to sanctions established as a result of the Crimea conflict, as noted by Daily Resource Hunter.

Real Clear World noted that in 2014, Russia produced 8 percent of the world’s cobalt. As the metal is derived from copper and nickel mines, this added to global fears about the supply of copper, and added to the factors playing a role in its price increase.

6. Cuba

Mine production: 4,200 MT

While Cuban production of cobalt stayed relatively the same from 2013 to 2014, some are expecting that number will increase in years to come, according to Investor Intel. This is because of sanctions being removed and relations between the U.S., which has little cobalt production of its own, are easing.

Specifically, two of Cuba’s largest ore-producing plants were formerly owned by the U.S. It is anticipated that these mines will expand production and become a major source of imports for the U.S. as relations improve.

7. Philippines

Mine production: 3,700 MT

The Philippines had an excellent year for cobalt production as the country stepped in to largely replace the gap left by Indonesia’s ore-export cuts, according to Bloomberg.

“Indonesia’s ban affected us positively,” said Michael Defensor, chairman of Pax Libera Mining Inc. “We will maximize this window and ship as much as we can.”

Ore exports to China from the Philippines rose 24 percent in the first 10 months of 2014. However, while some industry leaders expect this to only be a temporary situation, Defensor told Bloomberg he plans to continue to deliver as efficiently as possible so that if the ban is lifted the country will still be a global contender.

8. Zambia

Mine production: 3,100 MT

While Zambia made the Top 10 list, the country saw a drastic drop from the previous year, having produced 5,200 metric tonnes in 2013. While the country has progressively dropped its production rates, it is hoping to turn that around this year.

According to Mine Web, Murray and Roberts Cementation, which is an integrated copper and cobalt producer, completed the sinking of its Synclinorium Shaft project for Mopani Copper Mines. Mopani is is the largest copper mine in Zambia, and further, it’s one of the biggest in the world. With this new shaft in place, production and expansion are expected to grow significantly.

9. South Africa

Mine production: 3,000 MT

South Africa stayed relatively stable from 2013 to 2014. However, according to an article from May 2014 in Mining Weekly, the country could produce significantly more cobalt if it altered its mining methods. Currently, the country relies on hard-rock, narrow reef mines, but should turn to blast mining.

“If you can selectively separate the reef part of the underground ore reserve and throw the waste rock aside, the cobalt concentration once that ore reaches the surface is very much higher and becomes easier to recover,” said Dr. RE Robinson, research commentator.

Cobalt is largely sourced as a byproduct of the Bushveld platinum mines in South Africa.

10. Brazil

Mine production: 3,000 MT

Brazil, tied with South Africa, also stayed relatively the same at 3,000 MT in both 2013 and 2014. However, while South Africa sticks to less efficient methods of production, Vale global mining company is largely investing in Brazil, currently occupying 14 Brazilian states and looking to expand.

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**This article is update every year. Scroll to the top of the page for the most recent information**

(February 3, 2014)

Though cobalt exists in trace amounts in the Earth’s crust, it is not mined directly from there.

Instead, it is produced from cobalt-yielding ores — such as cobaltite, erythite, glaucodot and skutterudite — or, more commonly, obtained by reducing cobalt compounds that occur as by-products of nickel and copper mining. For that reason, countries with large nickel or copper deposits are often significant producers of cobalt as well.

Here’s a look at 2012′s top 10 cobalt-producing companies based on figures from the US Geological Survey.

1. Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Mine production: 60,000 metric tons (MT)

Reserves: 3.4 million MT

The DRC produces a huge amount of cobalt — over two-thirds of the world’s supply, according to Richard Mills, owner of Aheadoftheherd.com. Most of the cobalt it exports comes from copper deposits in the province of Katanga.

Lately, the DRC has been in the news due to its planned ban on the export of copper and cobalt concentrate. Originally slated to begin on January 1, 2014, the ban’s start date was recently moved to December 31, 2014. Its aim is to force miners to refine and process the affected metals within the DRC.

2. China

Mine production: 7,000 MT

Reserves: 80,000 MT

Despite being the world’s second-largest cobalt producer, each year China imports large volumes of cobalt concentrate, mostly from the DRC, Mills states in another article. With that concentrate, China produces 39 percent of the world’s refined cobalt.

Jinchuan Group International Resources (HKEX:2362) is the biggest cobalt producer in China, and at the end of 2012, had an annual production capacity of 9,100 MT of cobalt, as well as a 33-percent market share in the cobalt oxide market, as per a report on the global and Chinese cobalt industry.

3. Canada

Mine production: 6,700 MT

Reserves: 140,000 MT

Canada’s major nickel-copper deposits, including Sudbury, Raglan and Kidds Creek, all produce cobalt as a by-product of their operations, according to MBendi.

Further mines in development at widely recognized and highly prospective sites are likely to lead to cobalt production as well.

4. Russia

Mine production: 6,200 MT

Reserves: 250,000 MT

Major miner Norilsk Nickel (MCX:GMKN) accounts for much of Russia’s cobalt output; its market share of worldwide cobalt production exceeds 10 percent, while in Russia, its cobalt production market share is a whopping 96 percent, 24hGold.com states.

Strategic metals company Global Cobalt (TSXV:GCO) is currently making strides at its Karakul cobalt project, located in the country’s Altai Republic.

5. Australia

Mine production: 4,500 MT

Reserves: 1.2 million MT

Australia’s cobalt industry depends on its copper mining activities; fortunately, the country has considerable copper reserves, meaning its capacity for cobalt production is fairly high.

Of course, cobalt is also found with nickel in the country. For instance, Minara Resources (ASX:MRE), which is owned by mining giant Glencore Xstrata (LSE:GLEN) and is one of Australia’s top nickel producers, operates the Murrin Murrin nickel-cobalt operation in Western Australia.

6. Brazil (tied with Cuba)

Mine production: 3,700 MT

Reserves: 89,000 MT

Vale (NYSE:VALE) is mostly known for being the world’s largest producer of iron, but in the first quarter of 2013, it produced a record amount of cobalt — 993 MT, to be exact, Reuters states.

More recently, Brazil’s national geological service submitted a plan to explore “a cobalt-rich ferromanganese crust in international waters” to the International Seabed Authority.

7. Cuba (tied with Brazil)

Mine production: 3,700 MT

Reserves: 500,000 MT

Cuba produces most of its cobalt as a by-product of nickel. In fact, a 2010 report from the Cuban Research Institute states that revenue from the sale those metals is one of the nation’s “main engines of economic growth.”

The Moa joint venture, a vertically integrated nickel and cobalt mining, processing, refining and marketing endeavour between subsidiaries of Canada’s Sheritt International and Cuba’s General Nickel Company, carries out operations through three companies, one of which is Moa Nickel. Moa Nickel owns and operates the Moa mining and processing facility in Cuba; it put out a total of 3,792 MT of cobalt in 2012.

8. New Caledonia

Mine production: 3,500 MT

Reserves: 370,000 MT

Similar to Cuba, nickel is a key part of New Caledonia’s economy, making up 97 percent of the total value of the country’s exports. Given that fact, it’s unsurprising that the country is also a top cobalt producer.

Much of New Caledonia’s cobalt production comes from the Goro nickel plant, which is the nation’s largest mining project. Mining Technology notes that when it achieves full production it should have the capacity to put out between 4,300 and 5,000 MT of cobalt per year.

9. Zambia

Mine production: 3,000 MT

Reserves: 270,000 MT

Zambia’s extensive copper mining industry makes it a robust cobalt producer, according to the country’s Ministry of Mines & Minerals Development.

Last year, Glencore International, now Glencore Xstrata, announced plans to spend $27 million on increasing production capacity at its Zambia-based Nkana cobalt plant. The company sees cobalt output there rising from 2,800 to 7,000 MT per year when the expansion is finished — a press release put out later in 2013 states that completion should happen in 2015.

10. Morocco

Mine production: 1,800 MT

Reserves: 20,000 MT

Though it falls at the bottom of this list, Morocco is unique among cobalt-producing countries, according to the US Geological Survey. That’s because it is home to the Bou-Azzer deposit, the only place where cobalt is mined as a primary product.

**This article is update every year. Scroll to the top of the page for the most recent information**

Related reading: 

DRC Delays Copper, Cobalt Export Ban Once Again

Nickel in New Caledonia

Is Zambia the Next Cobalt Hotspot?

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Comments
  • Hi – It seems the numbers reported as baseline for 2014 in your 2015 production update article of this year don’t match the numbers reported last year in the 2014 production update. For example did DRC mined 63000 MT in 2014 (as reported in the 2015 update) or 56000 MT (as reported in the 2014 update)? Same thing with Zambia output in 2014: 5500 MT according to the 2015 update vs. 3100 MT according to the 2014 update; with Philippines output in 2014: 4600 MT according to the 2015 update vs. 3700 according to the 2014 update, etc.
    Can you please comment on which set of numbers is correct for 2014 output? Thank you

    Reply
    • Teresa M.

      Hi there,

      We’ve contacted the USGS mineral commodity specialist responsible for cobalt. This was their response:

      “Thank you for your inquiry about clarification of our cobalt mine production statistics for 2014. The Mineral Commodity Summaries (MCS) publication that you used as the source for the statistics is released at the beginning of each year and includes estimates for the prior year (e.g. the 2016 MCS has estimates for 2015). These estimates are made in the fall of the year being evaluated and at best are based on production for the first two or three quarters of the year. The numbers for earlier years listed are revised if reported data have become available or if information has become available to make better estimates.

      So, the 2016 MCS has mine production data for 2014 and 2015. The 2015 data were estimated and are likely to be revised in later publications. The 2014 data may have been revised from what we published in the 2015 MCS if we got new information. That was the case for the countries you mentioned (DRC, Zambia, and the Philippines).

      I hope this clarifies why the production numbers can change from one publication to the next.”

      Reply

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