Why does Congo have a near monopoly in Cobalt extraction? Is all the Cobalt in the world really only in Congo? Or is it something else? Congo produces 80% of the global cobalt supply. Why only Congo? Is the entirety of cobalt located ONLY in Congo?


Why does Congo have a near monopoly in Cobalt extraction? Is all the Cobalt in the world really only in Congo? Or is it something else? Congo produces 80% of the global cobalt supply. Why only Congo? Is the entirety of cobalt located ONLY in Congo?

In: Earth Science

Cobalt is mostly a by-product of copper and nickel mining. There are massive copper and nickel deposits in the Congo. However, another major factor is the lack of much mining and environmental regulation in the Congo. They can mine a lot of cobalt, cheap, because they pay the workers low wages, to work in dangerous conditions, with little regard to the effects to the local environment. So, it’s simply cheaper for companies to buy Cobalt from the Congo than from many other places.

Thus, it’s much like two farms in your town growing apples. If Farm A can sell its apples for much less than Farm B, then Farm A is going to sell far more apples, even if Farm B can produce just as many apples as Farm A.

The copper belt of southern Congo has both a high concentration of cobalt and a lot of it.

When you mine cobalt, you pull out cobalt with other rocks – copper and rocks you don’t want. The percentage of cobalt in the rocks in southern Congo (and the percentage of copper) is among the highest in the world.

Not only is there a lot of cobalt in the rock, there’s a lot of it, these deposits are massive, spread out over hundreds of thousands of square kilometers.

So you have some of the largest (if not the largest) deposits of cobalt in the world and they have some of the highest concentrations of cobalt in the world. That makes mining in Congo attractive even though it is one of the most challenging and expensive places for miners to operate.

It’s like the rare earth metals coming from China. Rare earth metals are not actually rare but China is a cheap source of them so they dominate the market. Congo is the cheapest place to produce cobalt and can produce enough to meet demand. If another place could produce cobalt but it’s even a little bit more expensive it wouldn’t make money. It is much cheaper for an existing operation to ramp up to meet demand than for a new mine to start production.

It’s different for something like copper or aluminum. We use so much of these and our consumption is based in part in price. So a new mine can still be profitable by increasing global supply. We don’t use nearly as much cobalt so the few operating mines can supply our needs. We could get it other places but it doesn’t make sense to make that investment just to be undercut but existing operations.

Speaking as a geologist- cobalt is a product of nickel and copper mining. But not all copper deposits contain cobalt. They have to have formed a certain way. The Central African copper belt, in Zambia and the DRC is one of the largest copper provinces in the world that formed in the way to allow mineralization of cobalt too. Then add in the DRC’s lack of good regulations compared to Zambia and you get a country that exports cobalt. 14-40% of cobalt is artisanaly mined.

There is cobalt mining and refining in Canada, but precisely because of the problems listed it is extremely limited. And yes, it is colocated with the nickel deposits and extraction of northern (Sudbury) Ontario.

I am part of a team developing a cobalt mine in Idaho. Just happens that the economics work now where in the past they haven’t. In the congo labor and enviro regs add way less cost so the economics were more favorable for a long time, not much else to it

Congo has a lot of valuable minerals such as Cobalt and Coltan. These minerals are often sought for their useful properties. Minerals such as Coltan are useful for basically all electronics. Cobalt is used for electronics such as batteries. Some of these are called Blood Minerals because of how much those resources fuel ongoing conflicts. Think of it like how Wakanda sits on a giant supply of Vibranium because that’s basically what ideas of Wakanda were based on.

However, over the past few centuries, the entire world seems to agree to nothing else but finding ways to exploit the African continent for its wealth of resources while screwing over the local population. International powers in addition to local rivalries (sometimes encouraged by international powers) have sparked countless wars, enslavement, genocide, child labour, and other atrocities. Governments and industries there are often goaded into having less-than-safe work conditions for dangerous jobs at far lower wages than most of the developed world, even though those minerals exist elsewhere. This isn’t recent and there’s HUGE histories of Colonization that are also are a factor. In particular, I’d recommend reading what the King Leopold of Belgium did in Congo and asking yourself why we only learned about Hitler as a mass murderer in school and not this monster.

All that history currently results in a very de-regulated mining market in Congo, which sits on a giant mound of valuable blood minerals that fuel wars and death, that international companies and powers can cheaply buy and exploit, especially electronics companies. As a result, they are all too happy to turn a blind eye to the human rights abuses and cruelty they fund for their newest products. We are not necessarily innocent in all this either. Chances are your computer, your phone, and any batteries and electronics you own has minerals in it that are a product of this exploitation. Not much we can do about it now of course, but it’s important to at least realize the history as to WHY these things happen and that it’s still happening; too much history for me to get into entirely on Reddit. Some countries have mines for cobalt and other blood minerals or are considering opening new mines for them, but they actually have standards and regulations, so they’re mostly ignored in favor of the cheap, blood soaked kind.

Tl;dr: Cobalt is available in many other places in the world, just not nearly as cheaply. The reason it’s mainly supplied from Congo is a complex web of historic colonization and exploitation that still persists in different forms.

Source: I learned about this several years ago through my work at a museum while researching Coltan and other metals and had to teach this to school children using Black Panther and Vibranium as a relatable reference.

Most of it is there. There is also some in Idaho and they actually promote the fact that mining cobalt in Idaho doesn’t support a repressive government.

Why did you ask the same question twice?
Why did you ask the same question twice?

Lol what’s with the way you asked the question? Repeating things and seemingly offended hahaha

This questioner is so delightfully (or sinisterly?) urgent and insistent. Ha! Are you from Congo?

95% of Opal in the world comes from Australia. From basically 2 locations as well. Just a little interesting fyi

Why did you repeat your question twice? WHY did you REPEAT you question twice?