February 12, 2023

Upstream Cobalt Market Assessment

Stratas Advisors


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After experiencing a slight supply crunch from 2019 to 2021, Stratas Advisors estimates that global mined supply of cobalt registered a year-on-year 19.4% increase in 2022, and is expected to see a further growth of 9.2% in the full-year projection for 2023. While some additions will continue to originate from DRC, Stratas Advisors expects the global cobalt market to increasingly diversify supply sources by maximizing cobalt output from nickel sulfide and laterite deposits. In 2022, the top three raw cobalt producers accounted for about half of mined supply, yet this share falls to 33% by 2030 as cobalt by-product mining grows outside of DRC. Copper operations will continue to provide for the largest share of cobalt output globally with greenfield projects expanding from Southern Africa to Latin America and North America; however, cobalt by-product from nickel deposits experiences the strongest growth to account for over one third of total mine production by 2030, driven primarily by the exploitation of laterite operations in Asia Pacific.
While the upstream cobalt market is expected to become more competitive, new upstream market entrants will however struggle to compete against the dominance of Chinese players, which will defend and actually increase their market dominance by 2.8 percentage points by 2030. However, Stratas Advisors expects Chinese refiners to gradually shift away from DRC imports, which currently make up about 90% of China’s cobalt raw feedstock imports. As investments soar in the Asia Pacific region, raw feedstock volumes originating from Chinese-owned operations in Asia Pacific will more than double by 2030, accounting for over 16% of China’s cobalt mining assets. With laterite ores being directly processed in domestic high-pressure leach acid (HPAL) plants, especially in Indonesia, China’s cobalt imports are also expected to increasingly shift to mixed-hydroxide-precipitate (MHP), though cobalt hydroxide from DRC will continue to dominate flows in the medium term.
This report is part of a series covering all segments of the EV supply chain, and contains strategic insights on growth projections and production trends across major markets and 40+ players, outlining key investments which help shape estimates on annual supply through 2030.
Key takeaways:
  • Global mine production of cobalt grows at a CAGR of 5.2% over 2022-2030, with growth accelerating in Australia and Indonesia

  • Almost 60% of the upstream cobalt market is currently absorbed by four players with operations in DRC

  • China Molybdenum could outgrow Glencore as the global market leader towards the late 2020s

  • The upstream cobalt market sees a marginal penetration of new entrants, with growth primarily originating from brownfield expansions; although smaller players see strong growth, the top seven producers retain over 50% of global supply by 2030 despite a significant loss in market share

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