Ranked: The World’s Top Cobalt Producing Countries
Cobalt, an essential component of key chemistries of the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries used in EVs, has seen a significant shift in its global production landscape.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has long been the world’s largest cobalt producer, accounting for 73% of global output in 2022.
However, according to the Cobalt Institute, the DRC’s dominance is projected to decrease to 57% by 2030 as Indonesia ramps up its cobalt production as a byproduct from its rapidly expanding nickel industry.
Indonesia Became Second Largest Cobalt Producer in 2022
Indonesia accounts for nearly 5% of global cobalt production today, surpassing established producers like Australia and the Philippines.
In 2022, Indonesia’s cobalt production surged to almost 9,500 tonnes from 2,700 tonnes in 2021, with the potential to increase production by tenfold by 2030.
|Country||2022 Production (tonnes)||% of Total Production|
|🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea||3,060||1.5%|
Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding.
In total, global cobalt production reached 197,791 tonnes, with the DRC contributing just under 145,000 tonnes of that mix.
The EV industry is the largest consumer of cobalt, accounting for approximately 40% of total demand. The exponential growth of the EV sector is expected to drive a doubling of global cobalt demand by 2030.
While the shift in cobalt production is notable, it is not without challenges. Plummeting cobalt prices, which fell almost 30% this year to $13.90 a pound, have severely impacted the DRC.
Furthermore, the longer-term prospects of cobalt could face hurdles due to efforts to reduce its use in batteries, partly driven by human rights concerns associated with artisanal cobalt mining in the DRC and related child labor and human rights abuses.
In a 2021 ruling by a federal court in Washington, Google parent Alphabet, Apple, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla were relieved from a class action suit claiming their responsibility for alleged child labor in Congolese cobalt mines.
The Future of Cobalt
Despite ongoing efforts to substitute cobalt in battery applications, cobalt is expected to remain a vital raw material for the entire battery supply chain in the near future.
The demand for cobalt is forecasted to more than double by 2030 to 388,000 tonnes.
Charted: America’s Import Reliance of Key Minerals
The U.S. is heavily reliant on imports for many critical minerals. How import-dependent is the U.S. for each one, and on which country?
Charted: America’s Import Reliance of Key Minerals
The push towards a more sustainable future requires various key minerals to build the infrastructure of the green economy. However, the U.S. is heavily reliant on nonfuel mineral imports causing potential vulnerabilities in the nation’s supply chains.
Specifically, the U.S. is 100% reliant on imports for at least 12 key minerals deemed critical by the government, with China being the primary import source for many of these along with many other critical minerals.
This graphic uses data from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to visualize America’s import dependence for 30 different key nonfuel minerals along with the nation that the U.S. primarily imports each mineral from.
U.S. Import Reliance, by Mineral
While the U.S. mines and processes a significant amount of minerals domestically, in 2022 imports still accounted for more than half of the country’s consumption of 51 nonfuel minerals. The USGS calculates a net import reliance as a percentage of apparent consumption, showing how much of U.S. demand for each mineral is met through imports.
Of the most important minerals deemed by the USGS, the U.S. was 95% or more reliant on imports for 13 different minerals, with China being the primary import source for more than half of these.
|Mineral||Net Import Reliance as Percentage of Consumption||Primary Import Source (2018-2021)|
|Graphite (natural)||100%||🇨🇳 China|
|Indium||100%||🇰🇷 Republic of Korea|
|Rare Earths (compounds and metals)||95%||🇨🇳 China|
|Titanium (metal)||95%||🇯🇵 Japan|
|Chromium||83%||🇿🇦 South Africa|
|Aluminum (bauxite)||75%||🇯🇲 Jamaica|
|Platinum||66%||🇿🇦 South Africa|
|Zirconium||50%||🇿🇦 South Africa|
These include rare earths (a group of 17 nearly indistinguishable heavy metals with similar properties) which are essential in technology, high-powered magnets, electronics, and industry, along with natural graphite which is found in lithium-ion batteries.
These are all on the U.S. government’s critical mineral list which has a total of 50 minerals, and the U.S. is 50% or more import reliant for 43 of these minerals.
Some other minerals on the official list which the U.S. is 100% reliant on imports for are arsenic, fluorspar, indium, manganese, niobium, and tantalum, which are used in a variety of applications like the production of alloys and semiconductors along with the manufacturing of electronic components like LCD screens and capacitors.
China’s Gallium and Germanium Restrictions
America’s dependence on imports for various minerals has resulted in a new challenge resulting from China’s announced export restrictions on gallium and germanium that took effect August 1st, 2023. The U.S. is 100% import dependent for gallium and 50% import dependent for germanium.
These restrictions are seen as a retaliation against U.S. and EU sanctions on China which have restricted the export of chips and chipmaking equipment.
Both gallium and germanium are used in the production of transistors and semiconductors along with solar panels and cells, and these export restrictions present an additional hurdle for critical U.S. supply chains of various technologies that include LED lights and fiber-optic systems used for high-speed data transmission.
The restrictions also affect the European Union, which imports 71% of its gallium and 45% of its germanium from China. It’s another stark reminder to the world of China’s dominance in the production and processing of many key minerals.
The announcement of these restrictions has only highlighted the importance for the U.S. and other nations to reduce import dependence and diversify supply chains of key minerals and technologies.
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