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Cobalt—Styles of deposits and the search for primary deposits

November 30, 2017

Cobalt (Co) is a potentially critical mineral. The vast majority of cobalt is a byproduct of copper and (or) nickel production. Cobalt is increasingly used in magnets and rechargeable batteries. More than 50 percent of primary cobalt production is from the Central African Copperbelt. The Central African Copperbelt is the only sedimentary rock-hosted stratiform copper district that contains significant cobalt. Its presence may indicate significant mafic-ultramafic rocks in the local basement. The balance of primary cobalt production is from magmatic nickel-copper and nickel laterite deposits. Cobalt is present in several carbonate-hosted lead-zinc and copper districts. It is also variably present in Besshi-type volcanogenic massive sulfide and siliciclastic sedimentary rock-hosted deposits in back arc and rift environments associated with mafic-ultramafic rocks. Metasedimentary cobalt-copper-gold deposits (such as Blackbird, Idaho), iron oxide-copper-gold deposits, and the five-element vein deposits (such as Cobalt, Ontario) contain different amounts of cobalt. None of these deposit types show direct links to mafic-ultramafic rocks; the deposits may result from crustal-scale hydrothermal systems capable of leaching and transporting cobalt from great depths. Hydrothermal deposits associated with ultramafic rocks, typified by the Bou Azzer district of Morocco, represent another type of primary cobalt deposit.

In the United States, exploration for cobalt deposits may focus on magmatic nickel-copper deposits in the Archean and Proterozoic rocks of the Midwest and the east coast (Pennsylvania) and younger mafic rocks in southeastern and southern Alaska; also, possibly basement rocks in southeastern Missouri. Other potential exploration targets include—

  • The Belt-Purcell basin of British Columbia (Canada), Idaho, Montana, and Washington for different styles of sedimentary rock-hosted cobalt deposits;
  • Besshi-type VMS deposits, such as the Greens Creek (Alaska) deposit and the Ducktown (Tennessee) waste and tailings; and
  • Known five-element vein districts in Arizona and New Mexico, as well as in the Yukon-Tanana terrane of Alaska; and hydrothermal deposits associated with ultramafic rocks along the west coast, in Alaska, and in the Appalachian Mountains.