Glencore’s Katanga mine in DRC ceased sales earlier on this week after citing traces of nuclear fuel uranium at the mining site. According to a statement released by the mine, the amount of uranium had exceeded the limit allowed to truck cobalt out of the DRC to the port. They however clarified that the amount was not a health risk.
According to experts, the sales halt could very well mean an increase in price of the metal. This is especially the case since Katanga is one of the world’s largest copper mines. Meanwhile, cobalt prices have fallen this year due to the growth of mine supply in the DRC. However, demand is set to double over the next few years due to its use in lithium-ion batteries in electric cars.
Carmakers such as Tesla are reportedly reducing the amount of cobalt they use in their batteries. On the other hand, eliminating it entirely has proving difficult due to safety issues. This is because cobalt plays a key role in providing stability to the battery, allowing it to be charged and discharged continually without problems.
The halt in sales from Katanga comes just as big cobalt producers such as Glencore are negotiating supply contracts with buyers in China. According to media reports, many buyers in China have held off purchases this year, in the anticipation of lower prices. As such, any restocking could have a significant impact on the price of cobalt.
The price of cobalt has fallen from a high of about $43.7 a pound in April to trade at $33.5 a pound in the past week, according to price analysis in the market. However, Katanga said it would keep producing cobalt but stockpile the metal until it had constructed a $25m Ion Exchange system to remove the uranium. This is likely to reach completion by the second quarter of 2019.