Cobalt as a free element is a hard, lustrous gray metal. Almost all of cobalt’s land-based deposits are found in combination with nickel or copper. Thus, cobalt often occurs as a by-product of the nickel and copper mining industry. There are several methods that can be used to separate cobalt from nickel or copper. For example, froth flotation is commonly used, in which a substance is used to bind to different ore components in order to enrich cobalt ores.
Worldwide refinery production of cobalt is increasing and has become more common in countries such as China. However, a large majority of the world’s cobalt mine production occurs in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Naturally, the DR Congo, followed by Australia, holds a large share of the global cobalt reserves. The Copper Belt in the DR Congo and Zambia is one of the predominant sources of cobalt in the world.
Cobalt has a wide range of applications and is often used in many industrial processes. In the United States, it is most commonly used as part of superalloys. By integrating cobalt into a superalloy, the material becomes extremely temperature stable, as well as corrosion and wear-resistant. These materials can then be used in turbine blades for gas turbines and jet aircraft engines, with titanium in orthopedic implants, in prosthetics, and for jewelry.
Consumption of cobalt has recently shifted away from the United States and Europe and towards Asia. Cobalt prices have also dropped and have impacted the global supply. As cobalt is often used in lithium ion batteries, as well as in nickel-cadmium and nickel metal hydride batteries, demand in the future is expected to remain linked tightly to the demand for electric and hybrid electric vehicles.
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