Early Signs of a Cobalt Shortage Could be Major Roadblock for EVs

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【Summary】A shortage of cobalt could result in major delays for the production of lithium-ion batteries, which are a necessity when it comes to developing electric vehicles.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Apr 22, 2018 10:00 AM PT
Early Signs of a Cobalt Shortage Could be Major Roadblock for EVs

Electric vehicles are a lot different than gasoline-powered automobiles, but everyone knows that. Going beyond the very noticeable differences, electric cars require more metals, including lithium and cobalt to operate. Those two specific materials are used in creating batteries for electric cars. Being able to develop better electric cars with more range and quicker recharge times means that automakers need to pack EVs with more cobalt and lithium. But that's easier said than done. 

Demand For Precious Metals Rises

According to Forbes, demand for cobalt and lithium has skyrocketed recently and early signs of a shortage are already evident. While some would assume that lithium would be the difficult material to obtain, it sounds like a shortage of cobalt could be detrimental to automakers. As the outlet points out, the majority of lithium-ion batteries contain cobalt and graphite, which help EVs retain and discharge electricity. Lithium and graphite are reportedly abundant, but cobalt isn't, which has some worrying about the future of electric cars. 

Besides being used in electric vehicles, cobalt is also utilized for the production of smartphones, laptops, and other modern items. So it shouldn't be surprising to hear that Apple has looked into acquiring massive amounts of cobalt over a five-year period. The company needs the stuff to develop its items and a shortage of the material could do more than just hurts its profits. 

Forbes claims that Glencore, one of the largest producers of cobalt, has held meetings with Volkswagen and Tesla about the future of the precious metal. According to the company's chief executive, Ivan Glasenberg, supplies of the metal are "relatively constrained" because of the way the material is mined. "We have seen the investments that car companies are making in electric vehicles," said Glasenberg. "They will need battery supply. It will require a lot of cobalt, and we all know the geological scarcity of cobalt." 

Companies Scramble To Get Cobalt Reserve

Forbes claims that the price of cobalt has risen to $80,000 a ton, with the majority of the metal coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Pricing for cobalt, though, is a tricky thing to get down, as miners and consumers aren't sure of future demand. While numerous automakers are gearing up to increase EV production, it's hard for them to definitively state how many cars they expect consumers to purchase. While electric vehicles have become popular in the U.S., it's hard to state whether that trend will continue to increase throughout the country, as well as globally. 

According to the outlet, miners in Australia have quickly been able to expand production of lithium to meet a short-term shortage because of their mining method. Miners in the continent look for spodumene concentrate, which is roughly six percent lithium and deliver it to consumers. That's a stark contrast to the way minters in South American operate, which look to extract the material from brine lakes. 

Understandably, companies are looking to obtain large amounts of cobalt and lithium as automakers move away from gasoline-powered cars and towards battery-powered machines. While lithium won't prove to be a problem, automakers are going to have to find an alternative to cobalt or find a way to get a large supply of the metal, or face a major slowdown in EV production. 

via: Forbes

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