COG3 cobalt project

Cobalt (Co) is a metal of great strategic and economic importance. The Museum is working with five UK universities on a multidisciplinary study, Cobalt: the roles of geology, geomicrobiology and geometallurgy in its mineral formation and recovery (COG3).

The COG3 project investigates potential solutions for the extraction of cobalt from reserves in Europe. It involves a consortium of international researchers with a wide range of scientific disciplines.

The project aims to:

  • identify new environmentally benign extraction and recovery processes for cobalt
  • understand how cobalt minerals and ores are formed
  • understand how cobalt behaves in Earth's crust
  • promote greater understanding of the distribution and behaviour of cobalt in natural systems

We hope to unlock the UK's unique capabilities in the exploration, mining and recovery of cobalt.

Project background

Co is classified as an E-tech element by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and as a critical element by the European Union's Raw Materials Initiative.

Around 55,000 tonnes of Co are produced globally each year. Less than 0.1% of this is produced within Europe, yet European countries use around 30% of globally produced cobalt. 

Large untapped reserves of cobalt in Europe include:

  • black shale ores in Poland, which are mined for copper
  • Co-bearing nickel laterite ores in Greece, Macedonia and Kosovo

Recovery and extraction problems

One of the primary difficulties facing cobalt (Co) recovery from sulphide copper ores relates to its flotation when using conventional processes.

In order to recover Co, processing companies are considering increasingly complex chemical additives. The toxicity of these chemicals increases the potential environmental risk of the process, both in terms of volatilisation and leakage into the surroundings. 

Lateritic and other oxidised Co-bearing ores, such as marine nodules, pose significant technical challenges in developing economical and environmentally benign approaches to Co extraction.

Recent advances in fields such as bio-processing ores and mineral concentrates have highlighted potential new techniques.

Project details

Partners
Bangor University 
University of Southampton
University of Manchester
University of Dundee
University of Exeter

Funding
NERC £85,534

Glossary

Critical elements (CE)
Those elements considered to be crucial for the development of technology in modern society. Our studies include lithium, cobalt, scandium, gallium, indium, selenium, tellurium and rare earth elements (REEs).

E-tech elements
Defined by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) as elements that are essential for a technologically advanced and low carbon society, leading to more efficient energy usage. Includes cobalt, gallium, indium, tellurium, lithium and the rare earth elements (REE).