paints & inks
hard disk drives
gas to liquids
batteries & fuel cells
"Cobalt is considered a strategic metal by the US government."
"With hybrid electric vehicles gaining strong support from manufacturers and consumers, the use of cobalt in the rechargeable sector alone could lead to deficits in supply."
"The Samarium-Cobalt (rare earth) magnet has made it possible for the US to have the best performing radar, communication and electronic countermeasures systems in the world."
"Cobalt is an essential element in human and animal metabolisms."
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Many readers of this section of our website will be surprised to learn the countless ways this metal is essential to our daily lives - from cobalt's applications in health, communications and common household items to travel and national defense. The relationship of this essential metal to our daily lives is simple - modern society without cobalt cannot function!
Cobalt is considered a strategic metal by the US government. A strategic material is a commodity whose lack of availability during a national emergency would seriously affect the economic, industrial, and defensive capability of the US. The US is almost completely import dependent for its supplies of cobalt, and imports about 20% of world production. There is no current domestic primary production of cobalt, and except for a small amount of secondary material, the US must rely on foreign sources for all of its supply. The largest known deposit of cobalt in the US is near Salmon, Idaho.
Most of the cobalt consumed in the world originates from copper production in the West African countries of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambia, and from nickel production in Russia, China, Canada, Cuba and Australia. A significant amount of world production comes from DRC, Zambia and Russia where free markets are an unknown or recent experience. The other producer is Cuba, where a trade embargo exists with the United States.
Some of the Many Applications of Cobalt:
Super alloys -
Cobalt is an essential alloying element in high temperature super alloys used for casting airfoils and structural parts in jet turbine engines. Cobalt-base alloys have good oxidation resistance, a relative high tolerance for thermal fatigue, and are readily repairable. Typically a high by-pass, turbofan jet engine (40,000 lb. thrust class) requires 110 to 132 pounds of cobalt in the finished engine.
Re-usable energy storage systems -
All rechargeable batteries have this fact in common: cobalt improves the properties of the batteries or is an essential part of the system whether they are nickel cadmium, nickel metal hydride or lithium ion systems. With hybrid electric vehicles gaining strong support from manufacturers and consumers, the use of cobalt in the rechargeable sector alone could lead to deficits in supply.
Substitution for cobalt in jet engine castings will probably not occur and cannot be considered as a meaningful solution to the cobalt supply problem. Future cobalt displacement will be due to technical developments, like ceramic matrix composites and titanium aluminides.
Wear resistant alloys -
"The hard facing industry". These are the Stellite alloys still widely used to prolong the life of cast components, welding wires, rods and electrodes, and hard facing powders. These various alloys are used in the construction, automotive, oil drilling, petrochemical, and aerospace, food, pharmaceutical, power generation, glass, and plastic and rubber industries.
A typical American household contains an average of 40 permanent magnets. Peak usage of cobalt in magnets occurred in the late 1970's and, because of the cobalt price crisis; substitutes began to enter the market.
The magnet industry will always be a considerable user of cobalt. Permanent magnet applications are found in loudspeakers, hearing aids, compasses, cathode ray focusing, traveling wave tube fields, oil filters, microphones, galvanometers, MRI systems, musical instrument microphones, ABS systems, speedometers, tachometers, watt-hour meters, telephone ringers, voltage regulators, generators, alternators, magnetic separators, motors, precision scales and automotive airbag systems.
Rigid magnetic disk production for computers consumes the greatest amount of cobalt in the thin film electronics industry. Although cobalt will continue to be utilized, the amount is expected to decrease due to decrease in disk size and film thickness. Cobalt is an important addition to the basic ferric oxide recording layer on some videotapes, and recording on some computer memory files.
The Samarium-Cobalt (rare earth) magnet has made it possible for the US to have the best performing radar, communication and electronic countermeasures systems in the world. These units are used in most military aircraft, satellites, missiles, tanks, submarines and other ships.
Binder Material -
Cobalt is preferred for development of cemented carbides and diamond matrix materials, i.e.: metal cutting tools and diamond tools. Cobalt is the binder metal of choice in the hard metal/diamond tool industry. It is also used in snowplow blades, asphalt milling, grader & scarifier blades etc.
Thermal spray coatings -
These are used for protection against wear, corrosion, oxidation, thermal fatigue and thermal shock, electrical conduction & insulation, surface roughness control and pump sealing.
There are three groups of metals most commonly used in orthopedic implants: cobalt alloys, titanium alloys and stainless steels. Of importance in selection of materials for these uses are corrosion resistance, biocompatibility, static and fatigue mechanical strength, structural integrity, abrasion and wear resistance. About 70% of hip replacements utilize Cobalt-Chrome femoral stems. The estimated cobalt usage for hip replacements in 1996 was 150,000 pounds. This has greatly increased during the last nine years with an increasingly active but ageing population in the developed world.
Life Science -
Cobalt is an essential element in human and animal metabolisms. Pernicious anemia, a fatal inability to retain cobalt in humans, is treated by vitamin therapy (Vitamin B12). Cobalt soil dressings or implants are used to supplement cobalt deficient soils to prevent "wasting disease" in grazing animals. In other areas of medicine, nanocrystaline metals of silver and cobalt are effective antibacterial agents and can be used in air-conditioning systems to stop formation of bacterial.
Other Uses -
- Drying agents in paints, de-colorizers, dyes, pigments, and oxidizers.
- Promotes adherence of enamel to steel, and steel to rubber in steel belted radial tires.
- Catalyst in de-sulfurizing crude oil and as a catalyst in hydrogenation, oxidation, reduction, and synthesis of hydrocarbons.
- Gas to liquid technology (GLT) -- The application of this technology is expected to result in a major new demand for cobalt. GTL has the potential to convert enough "stranded" natural gas reserves into ultra-low emission liquid petroleum fuels to supply the world's energy needs. This technology will help eliminate the need for flaring natural gas in association with oil production, allowing development and production from wells previously closed due to inability to dispose of stranded natural gas.
The cobalt market demand segments chart is representative of the cobalt usages in 2007, based upon a world market demand of 60,000 tons.
The information on this page has been compiled from the 2009 International Conference Proceedings on the Cobalt Industry and Cobalt Facts Update (Cobalt Development Institute).