Assessment of Cobalt Mining Activity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia

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Cobalt, designated a critical mineral by the European Union and the United States, is a crucial component of lithium-ion batteries, which are found in cell phones, electric vehicles, and personal computing devices. Much remains unknown about the global cobalt supply chain, a large part of which originates in the Copperbelt region of central Africa. Over half of the world’s cobalt supply is produced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where cobalt is mined in both large-scale and artisanal or small-scale operations. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Florence Bascom Geoscience Center’s Special Geologic Studies team, under a memorandum of agreement with the U.S. Department of State, has recently begun a project focused on developing a comprehensive understanding of cobalt deposit locations and extent, ore grade, mining technique (large- or artisanal/small-scale), and supply chain pathways in the Copperbelt region.

The project uses remote sensing analysis, including interpretation of high-resolution (0.35–0.7 meter) satellite imagery, an evaluation of existing geoscientific data through geologic and geomorphologic mapping and modelling, and fieldwork. The remote sensing work, which uses imagery from satellites like WorldView-2, WorldView-3, and GeoEye-1, will initially focus on determining mine, smelter, and storage depot locations in four cobalt-mining hotspots in the DRC (centered around Kolwezi, Likasi, and Lubumbashi) and Zambia (centered around Kitwe). This initial assessment will be followed by a broader look at all regions in the Copperbelt that have potential for the artisanal and small-scale mining of cobalt, with the goal of identifying unknown, unofficial, and unregistered cobalt mines, smelters, and depots.

Example of high-resolution satellite imagery that allows the identification of features around a mine site north of Kitwe, Zambia.

Remote sensing project components and expected outcomes. 

Disclaimer: Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Author Name
Kathleen Boston
Author Email