Congo is far ahead

The Top Ten Cobalt Producers

24. Juni 2021, 11:37 Uhr   |  Heinz Arnold

The Top Ten Cobalt Producers
© Björn Wylezich/

Cobalt is a shiny gray metal which is used primarily in batteries.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is the largest producer of cobalt, accounting for 60 percent of the total, but 70 percent of refined cobalt production takes place in China.

These are the countries that produce the largest amounts of cobalt in the world:

1. Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is by far the world's largest producer of cobalt, with 60 percent of global production coming from Congo. However, output has dropped from 100,000 tons in 2019 to 95,000 tons in 2020.

Because demand for cobalt is increasing, the Democratic Republic of Congo is under increased scrutiny: because dangerous working conditions and child labor often prevail in the mines. In addition, human rights are said to be violated in the cobalt mining environment. This applies in particular to the many small mines, where workers often mine the ores by hand with inadequate equipment (so-called artisinal and small-scale mining, or ASM).

As a result, Apple had already temporarily halted its purchase of cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2017. The London Metal Exchange has taken steps to ensure that all listed companies operate under ethical conditions in accordance with the Responsible Sourcing Guidelines.

In 2018, the DRC Congress revised the mining code and increased taxes on cobalt, copper and other metals. Recently, a new state-owned company was established to purchase and market cobalt mined by hand in ASMs. The goal is to control the entire value chain and influence the price of cobalt, in part to increase government revenues. 

According to Investing News, the Democratic Republic of Congo will remain the world's most important producer of cobalt for the foreseeable future. Glencore has stakes in two mines in Congo: Katanga and Mutanda. In its 2020 annual report, Gelncore says ASM will continue to play an important role in the DRC. 2 million people in the DRC are employed in the sector, it said. Through the Responsible Minerals Initiative and the Global Battery Alliance, Glencore would seek to develop programs and frameworks to enable ethically sound ASM.

2 Russia

Russia produced 6,300 tons of cobalt in 2020, according to Investing News. Because battery production is expected to expand in Europe, the demand for cobalt from Russia could grow. Cobalt reserves in Russia are said to be 250,000 tons. But Russia ranks far behind the DRC in the production of cobalt. Russia's Norilsk Nickel is among the world's top five producers of cobalt.

3. Australia

Cobalt production in Australia fell slightly from 5,740 tons in 2019 to 5,700 tons. Because users are looking for alternative sources of cobalt due to the difficulties in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Australia is likely to become more important in the future.

4. Philippines

The world's fourth-largest cobalt producer came in at 4,700 tons in 2020. In 2019, it had still been 5,100 tons. President Rodrigo Duterte has been anything but a friend of the mining industry, assuming that the environmental damage from mining far outweighs the economic benefits. However, in early 2021 he had lifted the ban on opening new mines, which could indicate a change of heart.

5. Cuba

In 2020, cobalt production in Cuba fell to 3,600 tons from 3,800 tons in 2019. Here, Canada's Sherritt International and Cuba's General Nickel of Cuba operate a joint venture to mine cobalt and nickel in the Moa region.

6. Canada

Canada moved up from 8th to 6th place among the world's largest cobalt producers last year, producing 3,200 tons. The province of Ontario is home to a mining town with the significant name of Cobalt, which was known primarily for its silver mines, but where cobalt was also mined. Cobalt had its heyday between 1900 and 1910, and may be experiencing a revival as some smaller mining companies are convinced they can develop more cobalt deposits in the area. If they were right, Canada could increase cobalt production in the future.

7. Papua New Guinea

Last year, the country produced 2,800 tons.

8. China

With a production of 2,300 tons, China is the 8th largest producer of cobalt in the world. However, China dominates the processing of cobalt ores and imports large quantities of the raw material, mainly from DCR. Currently, China refined cobalt accounts for 70 percent of the world market. China is also the world's largest consumer of cobalt, which is used primarily for battery production.

9. Morocco

Morocco's production fell from 2,300 tons in 2019 to 1,900 tons the following year. In July 2017, BMW had announced that it would purchase cobalt for battery production in Morocco for €100 million and had signed a contract with mining company Managem Group to this end, which runs until 2025. This amount corresponds to one-fifth of what BMW needs for its battery production. The automaker procures four-fifths from Australia. In this way, BMW wants to ensure that only raw materials are used that have been extracted and processed under ethically responsible conditions.

10. South Africa

Cobalt production in South Africa fell from 2,100 tons in 2019 to 1,800 tons last year. Among others, Norilsk Nickel, which operates a joint venture with African Rainbow Minerals, is active here.

Cobalt price picks up again

According to the German Raw Materials Agency, 55 percent of the cobalt produced worldwide in 2026 is expected to be used in batteries, 16 percent will go into superalloys, 7 percent into carbides and diamond tools, and 4.5 percent into magnets. In addition, there are smaller shares that go into ceramics and dyes, for example. Most of the cobalt is mined as a by-product in copper and nickel mines. The price for 1 ton of cobalt has, according to the London Metal Exchange climbed from $32,000 to more than $52,000 by mid-March since the end of last year, and now stands at $45,000. Since late 2015, the price had peaked at $94,000 in March 2018 and has fallen as low as $25,000 in 2019. It did not cross the 40,000 threshold again until late January 2021.

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