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China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and artisanal cobalt mining from 2000 through 2020

June 20, 2023

From 2000 through 2020, demand for cobalt to manufacture batteries grew 26-fold. Eighty-two percent of this growth occurred in China and China’s cobalt refinery production increased 78-fold. Diminished industrial cobalt mine production in the early-to-mid 2000s led many Chinese companies to purchase ores from artisanal cobalt miners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), many of whom have been found to be children. Despite extensive research on artisanal cobalt mining, fundamental questions about its production remain unanswered. This gap is addressed here by estimating artisanal cobalt production, processing, and trade. The results show that, while total DRC cobalt mine production grew from 11,000 metric tons (t) in 2000 to 98,000 t in 2020, artisanal production only grew from 1,000 to 2,000 t in 2000 to 9,000 to 11,000 t in 2020 (with a peak of 17,000 to 21,000 t in 2018). Artisanal production’s share of world and DRC cobalt mine production peaked around 2008 at 18 to 23% and 40 to 53%, respectively, before trending down to 6 to 8% and 9 to 11% in 2020, respectively. Artisanal production was chiefly exported to China or processed within the DRC by Chinese firms. An average of 72 to 79% of artisanal production was processed at facilities within the DRC from 2016 through 2020. As such, these facilities may be potential monitoring points for artisanal production and its downstream consumers. This finding may help to support responsible sourcing initiatives and better address abuses related to artisanal cobalt mining by focusing local efforts at the artisanal processing facilities through which most artisanal cobalt production flows.

Publication Year 2023
Title China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and artisanal cobalt mining from 2000 through 2020
DOI 10.1073/pnas.2212037120
Authors Andrew L. Gulley
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title PNAS
Index ID 70238775
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Minerals Information Center