Cobalt production is hot and getting hotter. Here are the 10 top cobalt-producing countries of 2021, based on US Geological Survey numbers.
The cobalt market is facing high demand, but analysts advise that production is also on the rise.
One of the metal’s main catalysts is excitement about electric vehicles (EVs). The lithium-ion batteries that power EVs require lithium, graphite and cobalt, among other raw materials, and demand for these important commodities is expected to keep rising as the shift toward clean technologies continues.
Given those circumstances, it’s particularly interesting to look at the top cobalt producers by country. According to the US Geological Survey, global production increased by nearly 20 percent in 2021 to hit 170,000 metric tons (MT) — that's up from 142,000 MT the previous year. Read on for a closer look at cobalt supply.
1. Democratic Republic of Congo
Mine production: 120,000 MT
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is by far the world’s largest producer of cobalt, accounting for roughly 70 percent of global production. The country has been the top producer of the metal for some time, and its output increased from 98,000 MT in 2020 to 120,000 MT in 2021.
As cobalt demand rises, increasing attention is being directed at the DRC. However, cobalt mining in the country has been linked to human rights abuses, including child labor. In response, the London Metal Exchange has taken steps to ensure all producers associated with the exchange follow responsible sourcing guidelines.
For its part, the DRC passed a revised mining law in 2018 that increased taxes on metals like cobalt and copper. In 2020, the country set up a new state company to buy and market all artisanal cobalt mined in the DRC with the aim of controlling the entire supply chain and boosting government revenue by having more influence on cobalt prices.
The DRC is likely to remain key to the cobalt market for the foreseeable future. Glencore (LSE:GLEN,OTC Pink:GLCNF) has interests in two mines in the African country, Katanga and Mutanda — key producers of cobalt.
Mine production: 7,600 MT
Russia’s cobalt production decreased in 2021, falling from 9,000 MT in the previous year to 7,600 MT. While its cobalt reserves stand at 250,000 MT, Russia is still well behind the DRC in terms of production. Large Russian miner Norilsk Nickel produces cobalt and is in the world’s top five producers of the mineral.
With concerns about DRC cobalt running high, some automakers have been calling for increased EV battery production in Europe. There was hope that this push could prompt higher cobalt production from Russia in the future — however, that may now be out of the question while the country wages war against Ukraine.
Mine production: 5,600 MT
Australia saw a small decrease in cobalt production from 2020 to 2021, with output falling 30 MT. Like many other countries on this list, cobalt produced in Australia is a by-product of copper and nickel mining. The country’s nickel mines are located in the western part of the country, mostly around the Kalgoorlie and Leonora regions.
As the DRC becomes increasingly challenging for miners and as investors try to divert their interests away from Africa, Australia is another country that’s receiving more attention. The island nation may be third in cobalt production, but its cobalt reserves are the second largest in the world at 140,000 MT.
Mine production: 4,500 MT
The Philippines is the fourth largest cobalt producer in the world. The country’s cobalt production remained flat in 2021, once again coming in at 4,500 MT. The Asian country is also a top nickel producer.
The fate of mining in the Philippines was up in the air for awhile as President Rodrigo Duterte and Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu continued to call for a shut off of all mines in the country.
For the past few years, Duterte has fiercely opposed the mining industry, as he believes the environmental damage far outweighs any benefits to the economy. And yet, he seemed to have a change of heart in early 2021, lifting a ban on new mine permits in an effort to boost revenues.
Mine production: 4,300 MT
Canada was the fifth largest cobalt producer in the world in 2021, moving up from sixth place in 2022. As with Australia, Canadian cobalt comes mostly from large nickel and copper mines that produce cobalt as a by-product of their normal operations. Some of these major nickel and copper deposits are Kidd Creek, Sudbury and Raglan.
In recent years, a number of junior miners have rushed to Cobalt, Ontario, to stake land. The site is located near the Quebec border and is known for producing large quantities of silver in the past. It’s still early days for many of these companies, but if they are successful it’s possible Canada’s cobalt production will rise.
Mine production: 3,900 MT
Cuban cobalt production rose slightly in 2021 to 3,900 MT, up from at 3,800 MT in the year prior. The country’s Moa region is home to a joint venture nickel-cobalt operation held by Canadian firm Sherritt International (TSX:S,OTC Pink:SHERF) and General Nickel Company of Cuba.
Moa uses an open-pit mining system to mine lateritic ore, which is processed into mixed sulfides containing nickel and cobalt using high-pressure acid leaching. Cubaniquel, the country’s state-owned nickel miner, is the sole operator of the Che Guevara processing plant at Moa.
7. Papua New Guinea
Mine production: 3,000 MT
Papua New Guinea has made the list of top cobalt production by country for the fourth year in a row. In 2021, the small country off the coast of Australia produced 3,000 MT of cobalt as a by-product of nickel production. The country’s main cobalt producer is the Ramu nickel mine near Madang, a joint venture between private company MCC Ramu NiCo, Nickel 28 Capital (TSXV:NKL,OTC Pink:CONXF) and the Papua New Guinea government.
Mine production: 2,500 MT
Madagascar’s cobalt production was suspended in 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19, leading the country’s output for the year to fall to 850 MT from 3,400 MT in the previous year. However, Madagascar’s cobalt-mining industry was on the rebound in 2021, putting out 2,500 MT for the year.
Much of the country’s cobalt production comes from the Ambatovy nickel-cobalt mine, owned by Japanese company Sumitomo (OTC Pink:SSUMF,TSE:8053) and the Korean government. The fourth largest island in the world, Madagascar is also a major producer of graphite, another important battery metal.
Mine production: 2,300 MT
Morocco’s cobalt production remained stable from 2020 to 2021, coming in at 2,300 MT. Cobalt from Moroccan mines got a lot of attention after major carmaker BMW (OTC Pink:BYMOF,ETR:BMW) announced it will buy cobalt directly from mines in Australia and Morocco to ensure its supply of battery raw materials is sourced responsibly.
Mine production: 2,200 MT
China leads the world in refined cobalt production at 70 percent of total global supply. The material it uses comes mostly from the DRC, as the country ranks 10th in terms of unrefined cobalt production. The Asian nation is also the top consumer of cobalt, with the vast majority going to the country’s rechargeable battery industry.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
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