Cobalt resources in Europe and the potential for new discoveries
There is considerable interest in Europe in understanding the availability of cobalt from indigenous resources to help the transition to a low-carbon economy.26/01/2021 By BGS Press
A recent BGS-led study has identified 509 cobalt-bearing deposits and occurrences in 25 countries in Europe.
Global demand for cobalt is increasing rapidly as we transition to a low-carbon economy and work towards net zero. In order to ensure secure and sustainable supplies, there is considerable interest in Europe in understanding the availability of cobalt from indigenous resources.
This new study collates and harmonises cobalt resource data for Europe and assesses it in a global context. It highlights the potential for indigenous supply to meet European demand. It will be of great interest to governments, industry and academia, all of whom are concerned about the long-term security of supply of critical raw materials.
Gus Gunn, MBE, BGS Honorary Research Associate
The study is a collaboration with the geological surveys of Finland, Norway and Sweden, as well as the Greek-based mining company LARCO and Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter, and is part of a PhD project hosted at the BGS. The study has identified 104 deposits in Europe that are currently being explored for cobalt, of which 79 are located in Finland, Norway and Sweden. In the Balkans and Turkey, cobalt grades and tonnages are known in 27 nickel laterite deposits, with several containing more than 10 000 tonnes of cobalt metal. Only nickel is currently recovered from these deposits, but new processing technologies such as high-pressure acid leaching could enable cobalt recovery in the future.
The data collected in this study has, for the first time, allowed the classification of Europe’s cobalt resources using the United Nations Framework Classification for Resource (UNFC) system. The largest part of the known resources can be classified as ‘non-compliant historic estimates’. These resources have not been estimated by using internationally recognised classification standards and future mining at these localities is of high uncertainty. More geological data and considerable investment will be required to get a more reliable resource estimate and to prove the technical and economic viability of these deposits. Improved mineral governance is required to facilitate access to, and ensure sustainable management of, Europe’s indigenous cobalt resources. Only eight per cent can be classified into commercial projects, where cobalt is currently a by-product of nickel and copper extraction.
The resource inventory compiled in this study does not fully reflect the cobalt resource potential of Europe because data is unavailable for several countries and reporting standards are difficult to compare. However, given increased research into cobalt metallogeny and extractive metallurgy, together with greater focus on cobalt exploration, there is considerable potential for the identification of additional resources in Europe.
Cobalt as a component of electric vehicle batteries
We may tend to think that lithium is the major component of lithium-ion batteries (LIBs). However, cobalt generally makes up a greater percentage of the total. Various types of LIBs are currently used in electric vehicles (EVs), but the most important is the lithium nickel-manganese-cobalt oxide (NMC) type.
More about battery raw materials.
Cobalt: industrial uses timeline
Cobalt: supply chain to Europe
Most cobalt is recovered as a by-product of copper or nickel extraction. The major cobalt-producing regions are the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambia, with some large deposits also known in Australia, Russia and Canada.
Cobalt can be found in economic concentrations in three principal deposit types:
• stratiform sediment-hosted copper-cobalt deposits
• nickel-cobalt laterite deposits
• magmatic nickel-copper sulfide deposits
Significant concentrations of cobalt may also occur on the sea floor in iron-manganese-rich nodules and cobalt-rich crusts, although to date no cobalt has been commercially extracted from these.
Addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
- P Eilu and T Törmänen, Geological Survey of Finland (GTK)
- T Bjerkgård and J S Sandstad, Geological Survey of Norway (NGU)
- E Jonsson, Geological Survey of Sweden (SGU) and Uppsala University
- S Kountourelis, GMMSA LARCO, Greece
- F Wall, Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter
Cobalt Institute. 2021. History of Cobalt [online]. [Cited 18/01/2021].
Harper, E M, Kavlak G, and Graedel, T E. 2012. Tracking the metal of the goblins: cobalt’s cycle of use. Environmental Science and Technolology, Vol. 46, 1079–1086. doi: 10.1021/es201874e
Horn, S, Gunn, A G, Petavratzi, E, Shaw, R A, Eilu, P, Törmänen, T, Bjerkgård, T, Sandstad, J S, Jonsson, E, Kountourelis, S, and Wall, F. 2020. Cobalt resources in Europe and the potential for new discoveries. Ore Geology Reviews. doi: 10.1016/j.oregeorev.2020.103915
International Energy Agency. 2020. Global EV Outlook 2020: entering the decade of electric drive? [online]. International Energy Agency, Paris. [Cited 18/01/2021].
Olivetti, E A, Ceder, G, Gaustad, G G, and Fu, X. 2017. Lithium-ion battery supply chain considerations: analysis of potential bottlenecks in critical metals. Joule, Vol. 1(2), 229–243. doi: 10.1016/j.joule.2017.08.019.
Petavratzi, E, Gunn, G, and Kresse, C. 2019. Commodity Review: Cobalt. British Geological Survey.
Petavratzi, E, and Gunn, G. 2018. Battery raw materials. British Geological Survey.
This web page is based on the article Cobalt resources in Europe and the potential for new discoveries published in Ore Geology Reviews, by Elsevier on 20 December 2020 under an open access Creative Commons CC BY 4.0 licence. doi: 10.1016/j.oregeorev.2020.103915
For further information on cobalt and BGS critical raw materials research, please contact Stefan Horn, MSc PhD student, critical raw materials team.