Mining Cobalt in Africa
Most of the cobalt in the world is mined in Africa. It is mainly produced as a by-product of platinum and nickel mining operations. Most of the cobalt in the world is sourced from the African
country the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
How Cobalt is Used
Cobalt is used in several military and industrial applications. The main applications are in preparing ultra-strong and wear resistant magnetic alloys, as a radioactive tracer and in producing high energy gamma rays. It is also extensively used in giving inks, paints, varnishes, and ceramics and glass a distinctive deep blue colour.
The History of Cobalt Mining in Africa
Cobalt has been used for centuries for its rich colour. Persian jewellery and Egyptian sculpture richly feature cobalt since 3,000BC. It has also been found in China in artifacts dating back to the Tang Dynasty and the Ming Dynasty, and in the ruins of Pompeii which was destroyed in 79AD. The oldest cobalt coloured glass that has been discovered as in 2016 was from the Eighteenth Egyptian Dynasty which was 1,550BC.
The word cobalt comes from the German word kobold which means goblin. This term came from superstitious miners. They were afraid of cobalt because of the arsenic that gets oxidised when the ore is processed creates deadly fumes. Although cobalt was used centuries ago, the modern day discovery of the mineral has been credited to Georg Brandt, a Swedish chemist who made the discovery around 1735. Brandt called it a semi-metal and proved that cobalt was the source of the blue colour in ancient glass, instead of bismuth which was previously believed to have been responsible.
During the 16th century the first smalt production mines opened in Norway, Saxony, Hungary and Sweden. Most of the global cobalt production in the 19th century was carried out in Norway. In 1864 cobalt ore was discovered in New Caledonia and the European cobalt mining industry declined. In 1904 cobalt deposits were found in Canada – this further affected Europe. After the discovery of large cobalt deposits in the Congo was made in 1914 the industry shifted yet again, this time with focus on the DRC.
Where in Africa Cobalt is Mined
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has a copper belt that yields around 55% of the global mining supply of cobalt as in 2012. At this time it was also known that the DRC contained at least half of the known cobalt reserves around the world. In 2013 the government of the DRC started an initiative in which mining companies were given three months in which to stop exporting unrefined cobalt and copper and stop exporting the minerals. Instead the companies were urged to explore creating refined products for export.
Cobalt is also mined in Central African Republic and Zambia.
How Cobalt is Mined in Africa
Cobalt was initially only produced through reductive smelting as a by-product of copper and nickel mining. These days it can also be specifically produced from a variety of metallic ores like cobaltite. It is a lustrous and hard metal silver grey in colour.