Cobalt, nickel price rally lifts EV Metal Index to 2020 high

Audi e-tron comes in cobalt blue. Image: Audi

The MINING.COM EV Metal Index, which tracks the value of battery metals in newly registered passenger EVs (including plug-in hybrids) around the world continued to recover month on month in July, after dropping to its lowest level since January 2018 in April.

With the exception of cobalt, there was a modest sequential uptick in battery raw material deployed in August but year on year growth is accelerating according to data from Adamas Intelligence, which tracks demand for EV batteries by chemistry, cell supplier and capacity in over 90 countries.

According to the Toronto-based researcher, during the month lithium used in newly-sold EVs increased by 58% year-on-year, topping 6,000 tonnes for only the fourth time since the inception of the industry. 

Deployment of cathode materials nickel and cobalt both jumped 46% year over year, while 61% more graphite was deployed in anodes compared to the same month in 2019, according to Adamas data. 

The rise in deployment on the back of a 27% year on year growth in battery capacity worldwide combined with a sharp year-to-date rally in cobalt and a recovery in the price of nickel used in the battery supply chains lifted the value of the MINING.COM EV Metal index to $214 million for the month. That’s up by more than a third compared to the same month last year.

At $1.2 billion year-to-date, the index is still 12% below 2019 levels although, as testament to the youth of the electric vehicle market, is double the value of the same period in 2017.

Cobalt, nickel price rally lifts EV Metal Index to 2020 high

Cobalt from the blue

A 31% jump in the average price of cobalt to just shy of $40,000 in August, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, lifted the sub-index to $59 million, a 17-month high.  

Cobalt prices have been underpinned this year due to tight supply resulting from export delays of cobalt from the DRC shipped through South Africa and expectations that top miner Glencore will keep its Mutanda mine – responsible for 20% of global output – on care and maintenance for at least another couple of years.

China’s State Reserve Bureau (SRB) is also undertaking significant purchases of cobalt to stockpile the country’s strategic reserves, further chasing up the price.

And while much has been made of Tesla’s attempt to eliminate cobalt from its batteries, the difficulty of that task is illustrated by the fact that on a sales weighted basis, the average cobalt used in battery and plug-in hybrids is up 15% year on year, according to Adamas.

And that’s despite the fact that Tesla was number one in terms of cobalt deployment through the month – at almost 200 tonnes.