What is Cobalt? - Uses, Facts & Properties

Instructor: Marauo Davis

Marauo has taught both chemistry and mathematics in the high school and college setting and has a Ph.D. degree in chemistry.

When people hear the word cobalt, the first thing that comes to mind may be the small sedan once produced by Chevrolet. In fact, many people don't even know this is an element. Read on to learn some of the uses, facts, and properties of cobalt.

What is Cobalt?

Cobalt is one of those often-neglected metals with a host of uses, interesting facts, and dynamic properties. On the periodic table, cobalt can be found among the d-block elements, transition metals. It has the chemical abbreviation Co and atomic number 27. Cobalt, like many other transition metals, is typically found in the earth as an alloy (joined with another metal). Mining is the primary method for extracting cobalt, and it can most frequently be found in the Congo and Zambia on the continent of Africa. Cobalt can be used for a number of industrial and biological applications, and we will discuss those in detail below.

Cobalt metal
cobalt metal

Facts & Properties of Cobalt

Let's take a look at pure cobalt: The metal is a solid material and metallic gray in color. Furthermore, the metal possess high melting and boiling points. At standard temperature and pressure, cobalt is not readily oxidized, which means it does not easily lose electrons from its surface. However, if the metal is heated in air, a cobalt-oxide material forms quite easily. The oxide from cobalt is incredibly useful for its applications, and the material appears in very different colors depending on its oxidation state.

For example, in the +2 oxidation state, cobalt oxide may appear green. In the +3 oxidation state, it appears brown or black. Moreover, if the metal is allowed to bond with one of the halogens (the elements from Group 7A), it turns pink, blue, green, or blackish-blue as you move down this column from fluorine to iodine. So, it is actually very easy to know which type of cobalt you have just by its color. Each of these types of cobalt (oxide as well as the pure metal) can be used in a plethora of applications, including alloys, pigments, and vitamins, and each of these will be discussed in the next section.


Now that we know what cobalt is and some its cool properties, let's look at some uses of this metal. One of the most common applications for cobalt is its use as an alloy. As previously mentioned, cobalt is usually found as an alloy within the earth. Although these naturally found alloys have interesting uses and properties, cobalt can be added to other elements like tungsten, nickel, and samarium to form superalloys. Simply put, superalloys are those alloys that possess multiple unusual properties and characteristics. Most of these cobalt superalloys are highly corrosion-resistant, incredibly durable, and even magnetic!

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