Cobalt: the essentials

Cobalt is a brittle, hard, silver-grey transition metal with magnetic properties similar to those of iron (ferromagnetic). Cobalt is present in meteorites. Ore deposits are found in Zaire, Morocco and Canada. The isotope cobalt-60 (60Co) is an artificially produced isotope used as a source of γ rays (its high energy radiation is useful for sterilisation in medicine and of foods). Cobalt salts colour glass a beautiful deep blue colour. Cobalt compounds are important catalysts in a number of industrial processes. Cobalt is required in small amounts for life and is the only metal found in vitamins (cobalt is the critical component of vitamin B12.

Marmite, which we eat here in England and love it or hate it is a source of vitamin B12, actually a cobalt complex. The equivalent, but blander, in Australia is Vegemite. Marmite is available in the USA. Try mixing it with peanut butter.

Cobalt: historical information

Cobalt was discovered by Georg Brandt in 1735 at Sweden. Origin of name: from the German word "kobald" meaning "goblin" or evil spirit.

Minerals containing cobalt were of value to the early civilisations of Egypt and Mesopotamia for colouring glass deep blue.

Cobalt was announced to be an element by Georg Brandt about 1739 (or possibly 1735). He had been trying to demonstrate that the blue colour of glass was because of a new element, cobalt, rather than bismuth, an element often found in the same locations as cobalt.

Cobalt around us Read more »

Cobalt salts in small amounts are essential to many life forms, including humans. It is at the core of a vitamin called vitamin-B12. Grazing animals do not to do well in areas where there is little cobalt in the soil.

Cobalt is not found as the free metal. There are a number of important ores from Canada, Morocco, and Zaire. Meteorites often contain cobalt.

Abundances for cobalt in a number of different environments. More abundance data »
Location ppb by weight ppb by atoms Links
Universe 3000 60 Chemical elements abundance by weight in the universe on a miniature periodic table spark table
Crustal rocks 30000 10000 Chemical elements abundance by weight in the earth's crust on a miniature periodic table spark table
Human 20 ppb by weight 2 atoms relative to C = 1000000 Chemical elements abundance by weight in humans on a miniature periodic table spark table

Physical properties Read more »

Heat properties Read more »

Crystal structure Read more »

The solid state structure of cobalt is: hcp (hexagonal close-packed).

Cobalt: orbital properties Read more »

Cobalt atoms have 27 electrons and the shell structure is The ground state electronic configuration of neutral Cobalt is [Ar].3d7.4s2 and the term symbol of Cobalt is 4F9/2.


Isolation: it is not normally necessary to make cobalt in the laboratory as it is available readily commercially. Many ores contain cobalt but not many are of economic importance. These include the sulphides and arsenides linnaeite, Co3S4, cobaltite, CoAsS, and smaltite, CoAs2. Industrially, however, it is normally produced as a byproduct from the produstion of copper, nickel, and lead.

Normally the ore is "roasted" to form a mixture of metals and metal oxides. Treatment with sulphuric acid leaves metallic copper as a residue and disolves out iron, cobalt, and nickel as the sulphates. Iron is obtained by precipitation with lime (CaO) while cobalt is produced as the hydroxide by precipitation with sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl)

2Co2+(aq) + NaOCl(aq) + 4OH-(aq) + H2O → 2Co(OH)3(s) + NaCl(aq)

The trihydroxide Co(OH)3 is heated to form the oxide and then reduced with carbon (as charcoal) to form cobalt metal.

2Co(OH)3 (heat) → Co2O3 + 3H2O

2Co2O3 + 3C → Co + 3CO2

Cobalt isotopes Read more »

Naturally occurring cobalt consists of a single stable isotope: 59Co. Cobalt-59 has spin 7/2. The usual NMR reference is K3[Co(CN)6] in D2O. Cobalt-60 is an artifical isotope, and is an important γ-ray source.

Table. Stables isotopes of cobalt.
Isotope Mass
(atom %)
spin (I)
moment (μ/μN)
59Co 58.9331976 (16) 100 7/2 4.627

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