Why Cobalt is Strategic to the U.S.

Cobalt, a silver-gray metal, is used in the preparation of magnetic, wear-resistant and high-strength alloys.

Approximately 48% of the world’s 2007 mined cobalt was a byproduct of nickel mining from sulfide and laterite deposits. An additional 37% was produced as a byproduct of copper operations, mainly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Zambia. The remaining 15% of cobalt mining came from primary producers.

The copper deposits in the Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the top producers of cobalt and the political situation in the Congo influences the price of cobalt significantly. The politically unstable Democratic Republic of Congo contains half the world’s cobalt supply and represents the lion’s share of anticipated future cobalt supply – the DRC’s 2007 output was equal to the combined production of cobalt by Canada, Australia and Zambia.

In a nine billion dollar joint venture with the DRC China got the rights to the vast copper and cobalt resources of the North Kivu in exchange for providing $6 billion worth of road construction, two hydroelectric dams, hospitals, schools and railway links to southern Africa, to Katanga and to the Congo Atlantic port at Matadi. The other $3 billion is to be invested by China in development of new mining areas. Approximately half of  known global cobalt reserves are in the DRC, and close to 40%-50% of incremental cobalt production, over the next five years, is anticipated to emanate from the DRC.

Net import reliance on cobalt supply in the United States as a percentage of consumption: 2007 –  80%, 2008 – 81%, 2009 – 76%, 2010 – 81%, 2011 – 75%. In 2011, cobalt contained in purchased scrap represented an estimated 24% of cobalt reported consumption.

Cobalt has not been mined in the U.S. since 1971 – the U.S. has no domestic production and is 100% dependent on imports for its supply of primary cobalt. The United States is the world’s largest consumer of cobalt and considers cobalt a strategic metal.

By Rick Mills

Richard Mills, author and host of Ahead of the Herd, is an active investor and commentator in the junior resource sector. Rick’s work covers the spectrum of company analysis and macroeconomics.

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