Cobalt resources in Europe and the potential for new discoveries

Horn, S.; Gunn, A.G.; Petavratzi, E.; Shaw, R.A.; Eilu, P.; Törmänen, T.; Bjerkgård, T.; Sandstad, J.S.; Jonsson, E.; Kountourelis, S.; Wall, F.. 2021 Cobalt resources in Europe and the potential for new discoveries. Ore Geology Reviews, 130, 103915.

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Global demand for cobalt is increasing rapidly as we transition to a low-carbon economy. In order to ensure secure and sustainable supplies of this critical metal there is considerable interest in Europe in understanding the availability of cobalt from indigenous resources. This study reviews information on cobalt resources in Europe and evaluates the potential for additional discoveries. Based on published information and a survey of national mineral resource agencies, 509 cobalt-bearing deposits and occurrences have been identified in 25 countries in Europe. Harmonised cobalt resources, classified using the United Nations Framework Classification (UNFC), have been estimated for 151 deposits in 12 countries where data are available. The calculated total resource comprises 1 342 649 tonnes of contained cobalt metal. This includes: 114 638 tonnes in commercial projects with current cobalt extraction; 370 409 tonnes in potentially commercial projects; 111 107 tonnes in historic estimates compliant with modern reporting; and 746 495 tonnes in non-compliant historic estimates. Analysis of these data reveals that cobalt resources are widely distributed across Europe in deposits of several different types. Global mine production of cobalt is dominated by stratiform sediment-hosted copper deposits, magmatic nickel-copper deposits and nickel laterite deposits, but other deposit types may also be significantly enriched in cobalt. In Europe, current cobalt production is derived from three mines in Finland: the magmatic sulfide deposit at Kevitsa; the Kylylahti deposit of volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS) affinity; and the black shale-hosted deposit at Sotkamo (Talvivaara). This study has identified 104 deposits in Europe that are currently being explored for cobalt, of which 79 are located in Finland, Norway and Sweden. The Fennoscandian Shield and the Caledonian Belt in these countries are high priority exploration terrains for a variety of cobalt-bearing deposits, notably magmatic Ni-Cu-Co deposits. The Svecofennian, Sveconorwegian and the Caledonian orogenies in Fennoscandia also resulted in the formation of several other cobalt-enriched deposit types. These include chiefly metasediment- and metavolcanic-hosted Co-Cu-Au, VMS, skarn and polymetallic vein deposits. The Kupferschiefer deposits in Poland and Germany are stratiform sediment-hosted Cu deposits with some similarities to the Central African Copperbelt, which is the predominant global producer. However, the cobalt grade in the Kupferschiefer deposits is relatively low (0.005–0.008% Co) and not currently economic to exploit without significant improvement in extraction technology. In the Balkans and Turkey cobalt grades and tonnages are known in 27 nickel laterite deposits, with several containing more than 10 000 tonnes of cobalt metal. Only nickel is currently recovered from these deposits, but new processing technologies such as high-pressure acid leaching could enable cobalt recovery in the future. Small polymetallic cobalt-bearing vein deposits in several European countries have been historic producers of cobalt. Today most are uneconomic, but new technologies and the drive towards locally-sourced raw materials could make them viable future sources of cobalt. Our analysis suggests that geological availability in Europe is not a problem. However, many economic, technological, environmental and social challenges will have to be overcome for exploration projects to become commercial.

Item Type: Publication - Article
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ISSN: 01691368
Date made live: 11 Jan 2021 15:44 +0 (UTC)

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