One of the most important materials for the energy transition, cobalt is widely used in rechargeable batteries
Cobalt is highly valued for its thermal stability and high energy density. These qualities mean that cobalt is used in the cathodes of most types of rechargeable batteries. Cobalt is also used as a superalloy in gas turbine engines, and has significant applications in cutting tools, catalysts, and magnets.
DR Congo is by far the largest producer of cobalt and holds just over half of identified reserves. China is, however, dominant in cobalt refining.
Cobalt suffers from a very high perceived association with ESG risks. These risks are largely concentrated in the ASM sector in DR Congo – although the vast majority of cobalt is produced in large-scale mines and the share of ASM in cobalt production has been steadily declining for many years.
Of the ESG issues associated with cobalt, child labour is the most prominent. Major downstream users have faced considerable scrutiny and even legal action over their use of cobalt, because of its association with child labour.
Main Uses and Attributes
Around 50 percent of cobalt produced worldwide is used in battery chemicals.1https://rmis.jrc.ec.europa.eu/uploads/CRM_2020_Factsheets_critical_Final.pdf Cobalt is a critical component of the cathodes used in most types of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, due to its thermal stability and high energy density. These qualities reduce the battery’s weight and helps prevent the cathodes from over-heating.2https://www.cobaltinstitute.org/essential-cobalt-2/powering-the-green-economy/batteries-electric-vehicles/
Cobalt’s importance in rechargeable batteries means that it is widely used in consumer electronic devices, such as mobile phones and laptops, as well as in electric vehicles and in some types of energy storage systems.
One of the other major uses of cobalt is as a superalloy material. This accounts for around 18 percent of global cobalt consumption.3https://rmis.jrc.ec.europa.eu/uploads/CRM_2020_Factsheets_critical_Final.pdf Cobalt is a component of superalloys that are used in gas turbine engines for aircraft, powerplants and petrochemical facilities, because of their stability at high temperatures.4https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2011/3081/pdf/fs2011-3081.pdf
Cobalt’s strength and performance at high temperatures mean it is also widely used in applications such as cutting tools, catalysts, and magnets used in electric motors.5https://rmis.jrc.ec.europa.eu/uploads/CRM_2020_Factsheets_critical_Final.pdf Additionally, cobalt has been used for thousands of years to create a vivid blue colour in pigments for glass and ceramics.6https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2011/3081/pdf/fs2011-3081.pdf
Supply Chain Risk
TDi assesses Cobalt for key risks affecting the security of supply, and for its association with artisanal and small-scale mining.
Country Governance Risks
Cobalt's association with countries experiencing:
Association with ESG issues
TDi Sustainability's data rates Cobalt's association with the following issues as high or very high: