Sustainably closing the loop for cobalt powder in hard metals
Did you know that approximately 75% of today’s 7000 tons of cobalt powder produced annually is used in hard metals? Therefore, the recycling of cobalt in such applications is a win-win situation as it offers economic, environmental and social benefits. At Umicore, in addition to offering recycling services to our customers, we supply ethically and responsibly sourced cobalt, closing the loop in a sustainable way.
Hard metals are mainly used in cutting and drilling tools for various machining and pressing applications, mainly for the automotive, electronics, and oil & gas industries. As its name denotes, hard metals are composed of a very robust and tough alloy combining fine tungsten carbide bonded with cobalt. Both raw materials are technology enablers and thus are considered of high importance to the economy and present a high supply risk for the EU. Moreover, tungsten is classified as a conflict mineral and cobalt extraction can involve unsafe and unhealthy working conditions including child labor. Umicore believes that recycling is one of the key solutions to secure supply and ensure ethical supply, and we are the very first company to have established due diligence on our cobalt supply chain.
Recycling of cobalt has many advantages for our customers. It not only maximizes efficiency but is also a more environmentally friendly choice with economic benefits over primary mined cobalt and guaranteed ethical supply. For the recycling of cobalt powder, we partner with tungsten specialists who first receive all the hard metal scraps and end-of-life waste materials to separate the two raw materials as the hard metals contain 80% tungsten carbide and 10% cobalt. Umicore then receives the cobalt sludges which are reprocessed to recover cobalt powder in its original form for supply back into the hard metals value chain. Today Umicore delivers cobalt powder globally with an average of 30% recycled content. Having recycled volumes in our portfolio also gives us the advantage to secure supply for our growth strategy in cobalt activities.
As supplying cobalt powder from recycling alone is not a possibility, we need to combine it with primary cobalt sources and Umicore is the first company to voluntarily commit to excluding unethically mined cobalt from artisanal and small-scale mining from our supply chain. We are the first supplier to put in place a Sustainable Procurement Framework for Cobalt which is yearly verified by a third party, guaranteeing that our cobalt supply follows environmental performance, health and safety and business integrity.
At Umicore we turn sustainability into a greater competitive edge by closing the cobalt powder loop, combining our long-standing know-how in recycling with our experience in ethical sourcing.