Cobalt substances are used for production and industrial use as a rubber adhesion agent and in the handling of rubber products (tyres, conveyors, etc.) in industrial settings, as well as reuse of rubber tyres at End-of-Life in other settings.
Cobalt substances can be used in the manufacture of batteries. Although there are many different types of batteries, a battery generally consists of:
There are three types of high-density batteries that use cobalt:
Different cobalt substances are used as chemical precursors for manufacture of battery cathode materials; for example, in the production of cobalt dihydroxide used in the positive electrodes for nickel-based batteries (both Ni-Cd and Ni-MH); and for the rechargeable batteries that power hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs), where cobalt dihydroxide or tricobalt tetraoxide are transformed into lithiated cobalt oxides (LiCoO2 or NMC or NCA) used in the positive electrodes for lithium-ion batteries.
Cobalt substances are also used in a number of bespoke uses, including:
They are also used as laboratory reagents in some cases. Laboratory reagents are high-purity chemicals for use in chemical analysis, chemical reactions or physical testing. For example, a reagent may be added to a system in order to bring about a chemical reaction, or added to confirm whether or not a reaction occurs. There are also analytical reagents which are used to confirm the presence of another substance (City Chemical, 2015).
Cobalt is an essential element for animals, including humans, because a cobalt atom is present in each molecule of vitamin B12 (cobalamin). Cobalt has also been identified in many other non-vitamin B12 enzymes that are essential for vital biochemical processes in plant and animal species, as well as micro-organisms. Therefore, cobalt substances have several applications in the biotechnology and health sectors, including:
Cobalt is combined (used as the binder) with other substances/materials (e.g. tungsten carbide) to produce hard-wearing alloys for use in manufacture of drilling/cutting tools and machinery, that are then used in the construction, mining, and oil & gas sectors. Cobalt is used to bind tungsten and carbon together in the process of making tungsten carbide for carbide tools. When used in a drill bit, tungsten carbide provides a better return with respect to time and durability than standard steel. Carbide on its own is brittle, and the addition of cobalt (in powder form) strengthens it whilst at the same time imparting high temperature strength. The hardmetal industry is a downstream user of cobalt as hardmetal which is produced by directly mixing tungsten carbide with typically 3-30% cobalt. The tungsten carbide provides high hardness and wear resistance while the cobalt acting as binder adds strength to the hardmetal mixture. Hard metal tools are integral to the functioning of almost all manufacturing industries and are used to sharpen, drill, cut or mill various components. The automotive, aerospace, energy and general engineering sectors all use hard metals to facilitate the processing of steels, other metals, wood and composite materials. Also, mining, construction, oil and gas industries are dependent on high-performance hardmetal tools and applications for rock processing.
Cobalt and its compounds are used to manufacture other cobalt compounds (precursors) that are used to produce catalysts for use in the petrochemical, plastics, and detergents sectors. Cobalt substances are used both as a catalyst and as an intermediate in the manufacture of catalysts and catalyst precursors.
A catalyst is a substance which increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change. The use of a cobalt-containing catalyst can therefore result in faster reactions, with less energy consumption, and there is also catalyst recovery and re-use which improves the overall efficiency. By definition, a catalyst is not consumed in a chemical reaction, but there are always “in process” losses as well as losses in catalyst recovery, recycling and operations. Cobalt substances are used in four main catalytic areas:
For the oxidation catalysts, cobalt diacetate has been identified as the only cobalt salt that can be used as an oxidation catalyst in the manufacture of Purified Terephthalic Acid (PTA), N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA), which are the building blocks for the polyester industry (including PET). Cobalt-containing catalysts are also used in smaller applications such as steam reforming, benzoic acid manufacture, fluorination of hydrocarbons, polymerisation of butadiene and oxidation of xylenes.
In the chemicals sector, cobalt substance are used as intermediates for producing cobalt or other cobalt-containing substances. This use contributes to the final cobalt-containing products, such as other inorganic cobalt compounds and cobalt carboxylates. Based on information gathered by CoRC, there are many chemicals uses, as follows:
Cobalt compounds of the higher carboxylic acids (i.e. cobalt soaps) are used as driers to accelerate drying in oil-based paints, varnishes, and inks.
Small amounts of cobalt are used in the electronics industry in the manufacture of magnetic recording material, matched expansion alloys for use in optical and laser instruments, and leads/connectors in semi-conductor applications. Even though the volume of cobalt used may be small, these electronic applications are highly specialised and have high value for the electronic products that are made, and are therefore important to several key sectors such as Automotive, Computing, Communications, Medical, etc. Electronics are produced in multiple industries covering telecommunications, defence, consumer electronics, computing, industrial equipment and semi-conductors.
Cobalt is used in the manufacture of permanent magnets for a range of ‘high tech’ applications in the automotive and other sectors. Cobalt is ferromagnetic and is commonly alloyed with aluminium and nickel to produce powerful magnets. Cobalt has a unique role in soft metal magnets, hard metal magnets (AlNiCos), samarium magnets (SMCo; rare earth magnets), and neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) magnets. For example, Alnico and SmCo magnets are used in relatively niche markets, including electric motors, guitar pickups, microphones, sensors, loudspeakers, medical instruments and generators; while NdFeB magnets are used in a host of applications requiring miniaturisation such as efficient motors and actuators or disc drives, sensors, etc. Cobalt has a vital function in the magnet industry because when it is added to iron it increases the value of saturation magnetism (S). Temperature also destroys permanent magnetism and the temperature at which this occurs is the Curie point; cobalt has the highest known Curie point.
In the construction industry, Cobalt metal powder is used in sintered hardmetal articles and coatings. These hardmetal articles may also be used for a variety of applications including metal cutting and metal forming tools, wear applications, and mining. Cobalt is also agglomerated and sintered together with tungsten carbide-particles to form a powder for surface technology.
In the medical sector, cobalt and cobalt alloys are used in dental alloys and implants (e.g. crowns and fillings), medical implants (e.g. stents, pacemakers), medical devices, and prosthetics (e.g. knee and hip replacements). For example, cobalt-chrome alloys are used in orthopaedic and dental implants due to their biocompatibility, and high resistance to corrosion and wear resistance.
In the Aerospace sector, cobalt is used to produce super-alloys for specialist applications (e.g. aero-engines, jet turbines, etc.) where high temperature strength and wear resistance is important. In the Energy sector cobalt is used in steam turbines, power plant protective coatings and on wind turbine blades for renewable energy.
Cobalt-containing minerals have the ability to impart colour and are therefore used in pigments and dyes. The cobalt substances are used as a raw material in order to introduce the cobalt in the inorganic pigment or frit as a chemical use. The cobalt substances (and substances derived from these cobalt substances) are used to manufacture inorganic pigments/frits/ceramics/glass (an intermediate use, particularly through the formation of cobalt oxides), and may also be used in dyes or as a (de)colorant in textiles/ceramics/plastics.
The surface treatment applications involve the conversion of the cobalt substances into other cobalt substances on the surface of a treated article.
The two primary uses of cobalt substances within the surface treatment sector are:
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