COBALT - GOOD OR BAD?​

WIKI BATTERY ENERGY STORAGE & BATTERIES

Cobalt - A controversial battery raw material

Cobalt is used in Lithium-ion batteries in large amount. Due to the bad reputation of the cobalt mining in Africa, the battery industry is dedicated to reducing cobalt use from the battery technology in the future. However, it is unclear how much further the cobalt content can be reduced in NMC 811 and future next-generation battery cathodes.

General information about cobalt

Cobalt---Element-for-Batteries

Cobalt is a chemical element with the symbol Co and atomic number 27. Like nickel, cobalt occurs in the earth’s crust only in chemically bound form, apart from small occurrences in alloys of natural meteoric iron. The free element, obtained by reductive smelting, is a hard, lustrous, silvery metal.

 

 

Cobalt-based blue pigments (cobalt blue) have been used in jewelry and paint since ancient times, giving glass a distinctive blue hue, but the color was long attributed to the well-known metal bismuth.

 

Miners had long referred to some blue pigment-producing minerals as cobalt because they were poor in known metals and released toxic arsenic fumes when melted. In 1735, it was discovered that such ores could be reduced to a new metal (the first to be discovered since antiquity), and this was eventually named after the cobalt.

Nowadays, some cobalt is extracted specifically from a number of metal-bearing ores, such as cobaltite (CoAsS). However, the element is usually extracted as a byproduct of copper and nickel mining. 

The Copper belt in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambia supplies most of the world’s cobalt production. World production in 2016 was 116,100 tons (114,100 long tons; 128,100 short tons) (according to Natural Resources Canada), and the DRC alone accounted for more than 51%.

Cobalt is mainly used in lithium-ion batteries and in the production of magnetic, wear-resistant and high-strength alloys. The compounds cobalt silicate and cobalt(II) aluminate (CoAl2O4, cobalt blue) give glass, ceramics, inks, paints, and varnishes a distinctive deep blue color. Cobalt occurs naturally in only one stable isotope, cobalt-59. Cobalt-60 is a commercially important radioisotope used as a radioactive tracer and to generate high-energy gamma rays.

Cobalt is the active site of a group of coenzymes called cobalamins. Vitamin B12, the best known example of this type, is an essential vitamin for all animals. Cobalt in inorganic form is also a micronutrient for bacteria, algae and fungi.

metallic cobalt
cobalt production over time

Where is cobalt found?

Ocean cobalt

 Although the seafloor has been mapped only to a limited extent, preliminary surveys indicate that a large quantity of these cobalt-rich crusts are located in the Clarion-Clipperton zone, an area that is attracting increasing interest from deep-sea mining companies because of its mineral-rich environment. Anthropogenic input contributes as a non-natural source, but in very small quantities. Dissolved cobalt (dCo) concentrations in the oceans are primarily controlled by reservoirs where dissolved oxygen concentrations are low. The complex biochemical cycling of cobalt in the ocean is not fully understood, but higher concentrations have been found in low-oxygen areas such as the oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) in the southern Atlantic.

Cobalt is considered toxic to the marine environment in high concentrations.

Cobalt sources in many oceans include rivers and terrestrial runoff, as well as some input from hydrothermal vents In the deep ocean, cobalt sources are found at the top of seamounts (which may be large or small) where ocean currents clear the ocean floor of sediments over millions of years, allowing them to form as ferromanganese crusts.

Cobalt sources in many oceans include rivers and terrestrial runoff, as well as some input from hydrothermal vents In the deep ocean, cobalt sources are found at the top of seamounts (which may be large or small) where ocean currents clear the ocean floor of sediments over millions of years, allowing them to form as ferromanganese crusts.

Production of cobalt

battery material cobalt

The main cobalt ores are cobaltite, erythrite, glaucodite, and skutterudite, but most cobalt is obtained by reducing the cobalt byproducts of nickel and copper mining and smelting.

Because cobalt is generally a byproduct, cobalt supply is highly dependent on the economic feasibility of copper and nickel mining in a given market. Cobalt demand was forecast to increase by 6% in 2017.

Primary cobalt deposits are rare, for example in hydrothermal deposits associated with ultramafic rocks, such as in the Bou Azzer district in Morocco. At such sites, cobalt ores are mined exclusively, albeit in lower concentrations, so that more processing is required for cobalt extraction.

There are several methods for separating cobalt from copper and nickel, depending on the cobalt concentration and the exact composition of the ore used. One method is froth flotation, in which surfactants are bound to ore components, resulting in enrichment of the cobalt ores. Subsequent roasting converts the ores to cobalt sulfate, while copper and iron are oxidized to the oxide. By leaching with water, the sulfate is extracted together with the arsenates. The residue is further leached with sulfuric acid, producing a copper sulfate solution. Cobalt can also be leached from copper smelting slag.

The products of the above processes are converted into cobalt oxide (Co3O4). This oxide is reduced to cobalt metal by the alumino-thermic reaction or reduction with carbon in a blast furnace.

More info about cobalt on Wikipedia.

The main cobalt ores are cobaltite, erythrite, glaucodite, and skutterudite, but most cobalt is obtained by reducing the cobalt byproducts of nickel and copper mining and smelting.

Because cobalt is generally a byproduct, cobalt supply is highly dependent on the economic feasibility of copper and nickel mining in a given market. Cobalt demand was forecast to increase by 6% in 2017.

Primary cobalt deposits are rare, for example in hydrothermal deposits associated with ultramafic rocks, such as in the Bou Azzer district in Morocco. At such sites, cobalt ores are mined exclusively, albeit in lower concentrations, so that more processing is required for cobalt extraction.

There are several methods for separating cobalt from copper and nickel, depending on the cobalt concentration and the exact composition of the ore used. One method is froth flotation, in which surfactants are bound to ore components, resulting in enrichment of the cobalt ores. Subsequent roasting converts the ores to cobalt sulfate, while copper and iron are oxidized to the oxide. By leaching with water, the sulfate is extracted together with the arsenates. The residue is further leached with sulfuric acid, producing a copper sulfate solution. Cobalt can also be leached from copper smelting slag.

The products of the above processes are converted into cobalt oxide (Co3O4). This oxide is reduced to cobalt metal by the alumino-thermic reaction or reduction with carbon in a blast furnace.

More info about cobalt on Wikipedia.

The stable form of cobalt is produced in supernovae by the r-process. It makes up 0.0029% of the Earth’s crust. Free cobalt (the original metal) is not found on Earth because of oxygen in the atmosphere and chlorine in the oceans. Both are so abundant in the upper layers of the Earth’s crust that native cobalt metal cannot form. Pure cobalt in the form of native metal is not known to exist on Earth unless recently found in meteoric iron. The element occurs in moderate abundance, but natural cobalt compounds are abundant, and small amounts of cobalt compounds are present in most rocks, soils, plants, and animals.

In nature, cobalt is often associated with nickel. Both are characteristic constituents of meteorite iron, although cobalt is much less abundant in iron meteorites than nickel. As with nickel, cobalt may have been well enough protected from oxygen and moisture in meteorite iron alloys to remain as a free (but alloyed) metal, although neither element occurs in this form in the Earth’s ancient crust.

 

Cobalt occurs as compounds in copper and nickel minerals. It is the major metallic component, combining with sulfur and arsenic in the sulfide minerals cobaltite (CoAsS), safflorite (CoAs2), glaucodote ((Co,Fe)AsS), and skutterudite (CoAs3). The mineral cattierite resembles pyrite and occurs together with vaesite in the copper deposits of Katanga province. When it enters the atmosphere, weathering occurs; the sulfide minerals oxidize to form pink erythritol (“cobalt luster”: Co3(AsO4)2-8H2O) and spherocobaltite (CoCO3).

Cobalt is also a component of tobacco smoke. The tobacco plant readily absorbs heavy metals such as cobalt from the surrounding soil and accumulates them in its leaves. These are then inhaled during tobacco smoking.

The stable form of cobalt is produced in supernovae by the r-process. It makes up 0.0029% of the Earth’s crust. Free cobalt (the original metal) is not found on Earth because of oxygen in the atmosphere and chlorine in the oceans. Both are so abundant in the upper layers of the Earth’s crust that native cobalt metal cannot form. Pure cobalt in the form of native metal is not known to exist on Earth unless recently found in meteoric iron. The element occurs in moderate abundance, but natural cobalt compounds are abundant, and small amounts of cobalt compounds are present in most rocks, soils, plants, and animals.

In nature, cobalt is often associated with nickel. Both are characteristic constituents of meteorite iron, although cobalt is much less abundant in iron meteorites than nickel. As with nickel, cobalt may have been well enough protected from oxygen and moisture in meteorite iron alloys to remain as a free (but alloyed) metal, although neither element occurs in this form in the Earth’s ancient crust.

 

Cobalt occurs as compounds in copper and nickel minerals. It is the major metallic component, combining with sulfur and arsenic in the sulfide minerals cobaltite (CoAsS), safflorite (CoAs2), glaucodote ((Co,Fe)AsS), and skutterudite (CoAs3). The mineral cattierite resembles pyrite and occurs together with vaesite in the copper deposits of Katanga province. When it enters the atmosphere, weathering occurs; the sulfide minerals oxidize to form pink erythritol (“cobalt luster”: Co3(AsO4)2-8H2O) and spherocobaltite (CoCO3).

Cobalt is also a component of tobacco smoke. The tobacco plant readily absorbs heavy metals such as cobalt from the surrounding soil and accumulates them in its leaves. These are then inhaled during tobacco smoking.

Cobalt is a trace metal involved in photosynthesis and nitrogen fixation and is detected in most ocean basins. It is a limiting micronutrient for phytoplankton and cyanobacteria. The cobalt-containing complex cobalamin is synthesized only by cyanobacteria and some archaea, so concentrations of dissolved cobalt in the upper ocean are low. Like Mn and Fe, Co has a mixed profile of biological uptake by phytoplankton via photosynthesis in the upper ocean and flushing in the deep ocean, although most flushing is limited by complex organic ligands.

 

References

This text is a summary from Cobalt, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, February 2023.

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