I would like to know the state of cobalt on the earth in the year 2100, but I hear that it might run out in 2025 or 2030. Cobalt is used to make electronic components. In a world where most of the countries work with renewable energy it is used to create batteries.

Since for my story cobalt is the key element I need this information, or should I ignore this fact and pretend that there will be cobalt available in the near future?

Space travel is not a possibility.

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    $\begingroup$ Renewable energy doesn't need batteries. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Mar 27, 2022 at 12:38
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    $\begingroup$ ??? No, we won't run out of cobalt. I don't don't know what you have read, but I suspect that it was talking about cobalt reserves, and you don't know what that word means in the jargon of the extractive industry. Reserves means deposits which (1) have already been explored (so we know where they are) and (2) which can be economically extracted at current market prices. Notably, reserves does not mean "all the stuff which is available on Earth". The current reserves will run out in about a century from now; but, as always, we will find other reserves or exploit less cheap sources. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 27, 2022 at 13:29
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    $\begingroup$ P.S. All metals are eminently recyclable. We will never run out of metals, because we can recycle them forever. At present, a very large part of "new" steel and aluminium is made from recycled steel and aluminium -- because recycling iron is very cheap, and smelting aluminium is very expensive. But if the cheap cobalt from Congo runs out, we will surely recycle cobalt on a larger scale. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 27, 2022 at 13:31
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    $\begingroup$ But renewable energy does need energy storage. It can be done different ways on large and smaller scales. There have been fairly good arguments that distributing energy into batteries in lots of places might be useful. Mobile electronics also usually need batteries. Cobalt is also used in magnets for generators and motors, but magnets can be made other ways without cobalt or rare earths elements, but the motors and generators are larger and less efficient. Cobalt could become limited for geopolitical or economic reasons if you want. Rare earths and China are a current example. $\endgroup$
    – UVphoton
    Mar 27, 2022 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe the talk of renewable energy is that it can be used to power electric cars, and those bad boys need a battery the size of half a house. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Mar 27, 2022 at 14:46

3 Answers 3


The DRC has enough cobalt to maintain current output for 30 years, and has about 50% of the world's known convenient cobalt reserves (source: ‘Peak’ cobalt is not on the horizon – S&P’s Global Market Intelligence). About a third of the remaining reserves are in Australia (source: Top Cobalt Reserves by Country). That gives perhaps 60 years at current output, though that only takes you up to the 2080s.

It is awkward to find information on unconventional cobalt sources, but such things almost certainly exist because cobalt isn't vanishingly rare, after all. Given a strong enough economic incentive, exploitation of more expensive and less convenient cobalt reserves, and more aggressive reclamation and recycling of existing cobalt, would become viable.

Notably, current estimates of cobalt reserves only look at continental deposits. There's almost certainly an awful lot of all sorts of valuable minerals at deep sea sites, cobalt included. As there isn't currently a good survey of deep ocean mineral deposits, there can be as little or as much of them in your story as you need, and they can be as easy (or environmentally sound) to exploit in your future setting as you want.

Cobalt is used to make electronic component. In a world where most of the country works with renewable energy is used to create batteries.

That's true now, but it won't necessarily hold true for the next 80 years, especially in the face of vanishing reserves of critical strategic metals.

What's more likely is that alternative materials and technologies will arise that will use other materials that are more readily available and reasonably priced. Such things are already on the way, but they're not quite economically viable yet due to the current availability of the problem materials.

Since for my story Cobalt is the key element i need this information, or should i ignore this fact and pretend that there will be cobalt avilable in the near future?

Do you need cobalt to be scarce to drive your plot? Great! There's a reasonable chance it will be! Would you like your setting to work even in the absence of cobalt? That's fine too! There are plenty of alternative technologies that are either being developed now or will plausibly arise over the next eighty years.


Whichever you want

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Writing a story about cobalt? About damn time!

Writing a story about cobalt shortages? Make sure to mention cobalt running out!

Writing a story about cobalt but not centered on the shortages? Choose whichever works best for the story.

Want them to run out of cobalt? Simply declare that the cobalt ran out.

Want them to have loads of cobalt? Simply declare they found other materials to replace it. Things that used to be of cobalt are now made of other stuff. Or they stopped using the cobalt things, and now use other sorts of things.

Or declare they found a bunch more cobalt somewhere. Or they started recycling it. For example if you return your old toasters or batteries to the supermarket they will give you a few dollarydoos.

By the way what do batteries have to do with renewable energy?

  • $\begingroup$ Batteries store electricity and electricity is a renewable sourc of energy. In this world in the futures. After Petroleum price become to high, most of the countries starts a transiction to renewable energy, wich is electricity. Electricity become the new petroleum and countries become dependent from electronics which require cobalt to be build. $\endgroup$
    – LAC
    Mar 27, 2022 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ @LAC Electricity is not renewable. Once you have used up all the electricity in a battery it cannot be used a second time. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Mar 27, 2022 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Daron I think the general concept is that when it comes to portable power (e.g., cars), you have to store the energy you are going to use. That can be a high-density single-use product (gas, diesel) or it can be a rechargeable battery, which if the electricity used to charge it is itself from a renewable source (wind, water, solar, etc.) and not from a single-use product (gas, diesel) then you now have renewable energy with batteries as a key element. $\endgroup$ Mar 27, 2022 at 21:13

In 100 years no metal will actually be that scarce.

Asteroid mining will unlock an almost infinite supply of raw materials for several centuries.

However, even if you don't believe in asteroid mining or don't want to make your people go to space, cobalt is both recyclable (so once extracted you can keep using it forever) and there are huge amounts of it on earth. Another answer has some data about current reserves but on top of that the oceans hide like 10x more (and probably even more that we haven't found yet).

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In general, when you read articles saying that we are "running out of x" the claim is mostly poorly based and it's being fueled either by ignorance or by someone's pockets.

The only valid point is about the price per unit which goes up as we keeping extracting said material but when there's demand supply will follow, eventually.

In any case, if it's fiction you can simply ignore reality and make it be whatever you want.

I'd like to make it clear though that by publishing a story where cobalt is scarce, and that scarcity causes problems to humans, you will be part of the problem as cobalt is currently being used by certain people and political parties for lots and lots of fearmongering.

If you insist on cobalt please use accurate data (ie not scarce) or focus on some other metal that people don't use to attack EVs, batteries, renewables, etc.

Gold is a good candidate. It's actually super useful as it's inside almost every single electronic device and it's orders of magnitude more problematic than cobalt (morally speaking).


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