promoting the sustainable and responsible use of cobalt in all forms

Ores Containing Cobalt

Mineralogy

A wide range of minerals contain cobalt although many are rare or unique to individual localities. There are approximately 30 principal cobalt-bearing minerals and over 100 more which contain minor amounts of the metal or include cobalt as a substitute for other elements.

Cobalt may substitute for transition metals in many minerals and chemical compounds and is commonly found in the place of iron and nickel as they share many similar chemical properties.

Erythrite
Erythrite is an example of a secondary hydrated cobalt arsenate mineral.

Cobalt minerals occur in concentrations high enough to support economic extraction in several diverse settings, all of which display very different examples of mineralisation. The most common groups of minerals are sulphides, sulphosalts, arsenides and oxides (see Table 1). In general common rock-forming minerals do not contain significant amounts of cobalt. However, it can be found in economic concentrations in olivine, spinel and chloride in lateritic and hydrothermal deposits (hydrothermal deposits occur where minerals are concentrated by the movement of hot fluids).

Common cobalt-bearing minerals found in economic deposits

Name Group Formula Example deposits
Erythrite Arsenate Co3(AsO4)2.8H2O Daniel Mine, Germany; Bou Azzer, Morocco
Skutterudite Arsenide (Co,Ni)As3 Skutterud Mines, Norway; Bou Azzer, Morocco
Cobaltite Sulphosalt CoAsS Sudbury, Canada; Broken Hill, NSW, Australia
Carrollite Sulphide Cu(Co,Ni)2S4 Chambishi, Copperbelt, Zambia; Carroll County MD, USA
Linnaeite Sulphide CoCo2S4 Bou Azzer, Morocco; Norilsk, Russia
Asbolite (Asbolane) Oxide Ni0.3Co0.1Ca0.1Mn2+1.5(OH)2•0.6(H2O) Koniambo Massif, New Caledonia

Table 1 Common cobalt-bearing minerals found in economic deposits

Deposits

Economic concentrations of cobalt can be found in four different geological settings, outlined in Table 2. Cobalt is almost always a by- or co-product of mining for other base metals, chiefly nickel and copper. Large quantities of cobalt also occur on the sea floor, contained within manganese nodules and cobalt-rich crusts, although they are not economically viable with current technology and economic conditions.

Click on the deposit type below for further detail.

Summary of main cobalt deposit types

Deposit type Genetic process of formation Typical economic grades Major examples
Sediment hosted Diagenetic processes in near-shore or saline lagoon environment convert sea water sulphates to sulphides and concentrate metallic elements sourced from sediments. 0.1-0.4% Tenke Fungurume, Democratic Republic of Congo; Mt Isa, Australia
Hydrothermal and volcanogenic Precipitation of minerals from hydrothermal fluids passing through the host rock. 0.1% Bou Azzer, Morroco; Keretti, Finland
Magmatic sulphide An immiscible liquid sulphide phase is concentrated in magmas. This phase preferentially collects and concentrates metallic elements such as cobalt. 0.1% Norilsk, Russia; Sudbury, Ontario, Canada; Kambalda, Australia
Laterite Tropical weathering causes the breakdown of cobalt silicates and sulphides in ultramafic bodies causing cobalt to become enriched in residual weathered rocks. 0.05-0.15% Koniambo Massif, New Caledonia
Manganese nodules and cobalt-rich crusts Ferromanganese oxide concretions on the sea floor become enriched in cobalt by extraction from sea water and pore fluids from muds. Up to 2.5% None currently economic

Table 2 Summary of main cobalt deposit types.

Photo credit: Skutterudite, Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com (CC-BY-SA-3.0); Erythrite, Leon Hupperichs; - via Wikimedia Commons