Cobalt is both an essential biological and industrial metal, considered an important strategic mineral by counties around the world, but most of us know little about this semi-precious metal. Where does Cobalt come from? Why is it so important? Read on for 20 interesting facts about the “transition metal”, Cobalt!
- Cobalt is one of only three naturally occurring magnetic metals, making it very useful for the uniquely calibrated magnets found in generators and hard drives. The other two naturally magnetic metals are iron and nickel.
- Cobalt has been utilised by man for at least the last 2,600 years, providing blue pigments for glassware and ceramics. Cobalt has been found in ancient Roman and Persian jewelry, Egyptian sculpture, in the ruins of Pompeii and in China’s Ming and Tang Dynasties.
- The oldest Cobalt colored glass was found in Egypt and dated from between 1550-1292 BCE.
- In the Middle Ages, Cobalt was used in the manufacture of smalt, a blue colored glass produced by melting a mixture of the roasted mineral smaltite, quartz and potassium carbonate, yielding a dark-blue silicate glass that is finely ground.
- In 1735, Swedish chemist Georg Brandt (1694-1768) analyzed a dark-blue pigment found in copper ore. Brandt demonstrated that the pigment contained a new element, later named Cobalt. He was able to show that Cobalt was the source of the blue color in glass, which previously had been attributed to the bismuth found with Cobalt.
- In the early 1900s, wear-resistant Cobalt alloys were developed.
- In the mid-20th century, some breweries used Cobalt as a beer additive because it helped to maintain foamy head. However, it was soon discovered that a combination of Cobalt, high alcohol intake and bad diet led to a high risk of heart failure.
- In 1966, the first samarium-Cobalt rare-earth magnets were developed, and in 1972, they were improved by Albert Gale and Dilip K. Das of Raytheon Corporation. They are similar in strength to neodymium magnets but have higher temperature resistance and coercivity (resistance to demagnetization).
- Cobalt sources have changed throughout history, from Norway, Sweden, Hungary and Germany (Saxony) to a dependence on the African Copper Belt from the 1970s.
- The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) holds over 50% of global reserves and is responsible for around 50% of global Cobalt production.
- Cobalt is principally mined as a by-product of nickel and copper mining.
- Pure Cobalt cannot be found in nature.
- Cobalt is part of the essential nutrient B12, which is used in the production of DNA and red blood cells.
- Cobalt gets its name from the German word “kobalt” which means “goblin.”
- Cobalt-60 is used to create gamma rays which are used to treat cancer and to sterilize medical supplies.
- Special cobalt-chromium-molybdenum alloys like Vitallium are used for prosthetic hip and knee replacements.
- Cobalt is an essential component of lithium-ion batteries.
- When mixed with certain metals, Cobalt can assist in the production of materials known as “superalloys” – which retain their strength under tremendous stress and high temperatures. These superalloys are essential for jet engines, turbines, and other industrial components.
- Cobalt is considered a critical raw material by the European Union because there are few places where it’s abundant enough to be mined in larger quantities.
- “Two-thirds of the world’s cobalt, an essential ingredient in our smartphones and electric cars, comes from one of the planet’s poorest countries. All too often it is mined by children.” – Fortune Cobalt finds itself at the intersection of the green-energy revolution and massive human rights’ issues that have disabled Africa’s growth for generations.
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