Supplies of cobalt and lithium, key for making the batteries that power electric cars and mobile phones, are likely to be limited by 2050, German researchers have warned.
According to the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) study, published this week in the journal Nature Reviews Materials, a shortage and price increase of cobalt are likely to occur in about thirty years, especially since demand for the metal is expected to be twice as high as today’s identified global reserves.
The authors are not so pessimist when it comes to lithium, as there are several companies rushing to explore and produce the so-called white petroleum. They do warn production will have to be strongly boosted — more than ten times, they predict — to match future demand.
However, the scientists claim that since both elements are geographically present in regions believed to be politically unstable, strong concerns about a possible shortage and associated price increase of both remain.
Not everyone agrees with that premise. At the end of February, Morgan Stanley sent shares of lithium producers and explorers tumbling after it forecast a huge surplus in the market for the battery raw material in 2022, resulting in expected prices nearly halving from today’s levels.
The gloomy assessment raised eyebrows in the industry with executives criticizing the investment bank for vastly underestimating the rise in demand, production ramp-up problems and bottlenecks with processing of battery-grade lithium compounds.
And this week, commodities research house Wood Mackenzie released a report on battery materials that forecasts a decline in the price of cobalt and lithium this year, which would turn into a rout from 2019 onwards.
The German team, however, insists on a deficit, based on their scenario-based analysis, and suggests that cobalt-free battery technologies — including post-lithium technologies based on non-critical elements such as sodium, magnesium, zinc, calcium and aluminum — are the best way to avoid supply issues in the long term.
“It is therefore indispensable to expand the research activities towards alternative battery technologies in order to decrease these risks and reduce the pressure on cobalt and lithium reserves”, Daniel Buchholz, one of the experts who supervised the study, said in a statement.
Several companies are already working on finding alternatives to cobalt and lithium. Toyota Motor Corp, Asia’s No.1 carmaker, said last month it had found a way to make electric vehicles (EVs) more affordable and less vulnerable to shortages in supply of the key elements needed.
The announcement came just a week after Samsung SDI, South Korea’s leading battery maker, unveiled plans to recycle cobalt from used mobile phones and develop lithium-ion batteries with minimum content of the metal, or no cobalt at all, as a way to offset soaring prices for the silver-grey commodity.
These are the most ludicrous assumptions on resources I have ever heard.
First of all, every week that goes by there are new development in battery technology that are opening the door to other resources beyond Lithium or Cobalt. And the fact remains that Canada alone is rich in the extreme to both of these minerals and have yet to barely break into the vast reserves they are still entared. This was no doubt floated and financed by big oil who are continuously paying for erroneous and false reports that make these stupid claims.
Not to mention that Elon Musk intentionally built his GIGAFACTORY in the desert where Lithium is everywhere.
You can tell big oil is running scarred with new announcements coming every week from the auto sector that they will be joining in the Electric Propulsion world in earnest… INCLUDING FERRARI!!! When Ferrari says they will be going with a line of Electric Supercars, Big Oil Knows they are doomed…
Sir.Thank you for that…
Big oil knows its doomed. Why do you think the saudis started a multi trillion investment fund recently. To invest in other businesses since they have no other existing business there.
Have faith Loue, not only are cobalt and lithium deposits in short supply but demand for them will deminish as electric cars fade into history once again. Good riddance.
Electric cars are gay.
Contrary to popular belief, there is such a thing as recycling. Unlike fossil fuels which will be consumed when used, bateries are recycled. Tesla has their own recycling facility so they can easily disassemble it unlike others who crush, grind, chop, and heat or chemically separate.
The battery technology is advancing at a fast pace. Nano One materials and it’s technology which can produce cathodes cheaper and more efficient whithout using Cobalt.
Nano One has discovered and is developing patented and scalable processing technology to make high performance energy storage materials affordable for the lithium-ion batteries used in consumer electronics, vehicles and industrial storage.
The core technology assembles low-cost raw materials in solution (such as lithium, cobalt, magnesium) at high rates of production, prior to industrial driers and kilns completing the reaction. The three-stage process can produce many kinds of ceramic powders, uses equipment common to industry and is already being engineered, with industrial partners NORAM and BC Research, for high volume production and rapid commercialization.
Nano One believes that efficient nanostructuring of composite materials, can bring the cost and performance improvements needed to cut cathode material costs by up to 50% in terms of $/kWh. The technology also has growth potential in many other markets, where the game changing properties of nanoscale materials can be realized if made affordable.
Nano One’s advantage is a low cost process to enable high volume production of a wide range of advanced materials. The first target market is $2-3 billion in lithium ion battery cathode materials.
The patented technology enables rapid formation of high performance nano-scale structures early in a three-stage production cycle. Innovative control of particle size eliminates the need for repetitive grinding, milling, filtering and prolonged thermal treatment that are common to other dominant industrial processes.
Crystal structures are formed from inexpensive raw materials reacting at mild temperatures under atmospheric pressures in fast acting, versatile conditions. Through clever manipulations, the process avoids complexing agents, surfactants, templates, emulsifiers and other chemicals.
The Club of Rome, in 1969, made very similar predictions for a wide range of commodities
Intensive mining for Cobalt and others means even more energy-intensive mining operations. This worsens the energy-audit of how energy-producing devices manage to provide a sum of useful energy barely matches a fraction of the total energy put into constructing them – before they wear and tear and ultimately cease (see junkyard growing by the hour all over the world with engines that have their mass and parts-count still intact as they have left their production lines anew);