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Richard Herrington - Diversifying cobalt supplies

Updated: May 31



Cobalt is a metal associated with modern technologies with the Li-ion battery industry, particularly for private vehicles, using around 45 percent of global cobalt production.  Of the battery metals, Co appears to have the tightest supply and demand fundamentals, particularly given government pledges to deliver the transition to battery electric vehicles [1]. Over 95 percent of the world’s primary cobalt comes as a by-product of nickel or copper mining.  Furthermore, 55% of that by-product production is located in the DRC, some of which has been linked to unethical mining practices. 


The recent price hike for cobalt suggests that we are already witnessing an increased scarcity of cobalt supply. Mines producing complex arsenide ores in Morocco are the only primary cobalt producers so an added pressure to supply may be that the price of copper and nickel has been dropping to their current six-year lows, making some of the mines traditionally supplying by-product cobalt uneconomic.  In the short term at least, with a growing cobalt market, new resources are needed to secure the supply.  

In absolute terms, the planet’s cobalt resources are more than adequate, for example the deep ocean manganese nodules are estimated to contain more than 120 million tonnes of cobalt, yet imminent supply from these sources is unlikely.  As a result, industry has turned to seeking terrestrial cobalt in a range of neglected deposit types such as those related to arsenides.  There is also the realization that by changing recovery strategies in existing operations, by-product cobalt production could be increased. 


This talk will highlight the results of the NERC project CoG3, which had the aim of increasing recovery of cobalt a diversity of natural deposits [2] and the ongoing project CROCODILE [3] that aims to secure cobalt for the European market from secondary sources including current mine ‘waste’. This talk will integrate results emerging from this research with work by other groups where it is shown that, simple changes to processing methods could extract more cobalt currently lost at existing or dormant operations, often close to where the metal is needed.  For other scenarios with more complex ores, implementation of innovative technology could be the game-changer needed to stimulate a diversity of supply of primary cobalt needed for the growing green economy.   


[1] https://www.nhm.ac.uk/press-office/press-releases/leading-scientists-set-out-resource-challenge-of-meeting-net-zer.html

[2] http://www.nhm.ac.uk/our-science/our-work/sustainability/cog3-cobalt-project.html

[3] https://h2020-crocodile.eu/



Biography

Richard is currently Head of Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum, a department comprising over 90 scientists who undertake research and outreach using the museum’s extensive Earth Sciences Collections covering from planetary geology to mineral sciences and all areas of palaeobiology.  Personally, Richard has spent more than 40 years as a mineral deposit geology researcher coming into research after time spent in the minerals exploration industry.  Since then, his research has covered a range of commodities and mineral deposit types but is currently focused on metals critical for the green economy.  Projects range from understanding where, when and how mineral deposits form to the use of novel technologies for both improved discovery and recovery leading to sustainable legacies.  He has published widely in the international literature and in the past has served as regional vice president for both the Society of Economic Geologists and the Society for Geology Applied to Mineral Deposits as well as being a Council Member of the Geological Society of London. 


Richard Herrington, Paul Schofield, Agnieska Dybowska, and CoG3 and CROCODILE colleagues. Natural History Museum, London, SW7 5BD, r.herrington@nhm.ac.uk



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