Cobalt is a shiny, gray, brittle metal that is used in creating an intense blue color in paints and glass.
It is often used in manufacturing rechargeable batteries as well as in creating alloys that can maintain their strength even at very high temperatures.
Uses of Cobalt
Cobalt, as a micronutrient and essential trace element, is also used by humans and other living organisms in having good health. It is one of the most vital components in several defense, aerospace, and medical applications, and a major element in numerous energy technologies.
The term cobalt comes from the German word “kobold” that means goblin. Such a name was given by medieval mineralists who thought that goblins changed the valuable metals in their ore with poisonous substances that emit fumes when smelted. It was only when Georg Brandt, a Swedish chemist, isolated metallic cobalt and discovered some of its valuable properties in 1735, which is the first new metal to be discovered since ancient times.
The cobalt mineral is considered a critical and strategic mineral due to the fact that it is used in defense-related and industrial purposes. Cobalt is frequently associated with lead, silver, copper, nickel, and iron ores, from which it is often obtained as a by-product, and occurs in the minerals as cobaltite, erythrite, and smaltite. It is also present in meteorites.
Valuable cobalt ore deposits are found in Morocco, Zaire, and Canada. The bottom of the north central Pacific Ocean has deposits that are cobalt-rich at relatively shallow depths in water that are close to U.S. Pacific territories such as the Hawaiian Islands, as announced by the U.S. Geological Survey. The United States is the largest cobalt consumer wherein they are using around 30 percent of the total cobalt production of the world since 1991; however there is no domestic production.
The cobalt mineral is alloyed with nickel, iron, and other metals in order to produce Alnico, which is an alloy of unusual magnetic strength with numerous important uses. The stellite alloys that contain chromium, tungsten, and cobalt, are used for heavy-duty, high-speed, high temperature cutting tools, and for dies. It is also used in other stainless steels and magnetic steels, as well as in alloys that are used in gas turbine and jet turbine generators. Due to this metal’s hardness, appearance, and resistance to oxidation, it is also used in electroplating.
Salts of the cobalt mineral have been used for centuries in producing brilliant and permanent blue colors in tiles, enamels, pottery, porcelain, and glass. It is primarily a chief ingredient in Thenard’s and Sevre’s blue. When carefully used in the form of acetate, nitrate, sulfate, or chloride, cobalt has been found effective in correcting certain mineral deficiency disease in animals. A solution of the chloride is used as a sympathetic ink.
The global cobalt supply is expected to exceed or meet the demand for the next years. However, the supply of this metal is at risk of disruption due to several reasons that include limited sources of production; the global market is relatively small; and, because most cobalt is a byproduct of nickel or copper mining, the supply is dependent on the markets for these more abundant metals.
Cobalt Mineral References and Further Reading
USGS Mineral Resource Pages; Arkansas Geological Survey; Los Alamos National Laboratory; Berkeley Lab; University of Minnesota Duluth.