New approaches to refining mineral deposits could increase cobalt output as the market looks to diversify supply away from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), delegates heard at the Cobalt Institute conference in Hong Kong.
Production in the DRC reached 125,000t of cobalt contained last year, accounting for around 70pc of global output. That share is set to rise further, as output is expected to increase to 200,000t of cobalt contained by 2025 with the start of new projects, said coordinator of the technical coordination and mining planning unit at the DRC mining ministry Paul Mabolia.
The DRC exports cobalt in the form of hydroxides, cobalt-copper concentrates and cobalt concentrates, white alloys, and cobalt carbonate. DRC cobalt hydroxide production increased to 350,000t in 2018, overtaking production of cobalt concentrate in response to demand from China for material to refine into battery chemicals, Mabolia said.
New approaches to processing copper and nickel could increase cobalt recovery from mines, said Richard Herrington, project leader with the COG3 consortium, which is developing bioprocessing strategies for cobalt extraction.
“There’s a lot of under-evaluated cobalt,” Herrington said. “A lot of sulphides have the potential to recover cobalt.” There are sediment-hosted copper deposits around the world, but only the Central African Copperbelt produces cobalt in large volumes.
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