Could Cobalt Choke Our Electric Vehicle Future? – by Prachi Patel(Scientific American – January 2019)

Demand for the metal, which is critical to EV batteries, could soon outstrip supply

An electric car future is speeding closer; economic analysts project that a third of all automobiles could be battery-powered by 2040. Most of these vehicles rely on large lithium-ion batteries, prompting worries about whether the world’s lithium supply can keep up.

But another element—cobalt—is a bigger concern, scientists reported in October in the journal Joule.

“The best lithium battery cathodes [negative electrodes] all contain cobalt, and its production is limited,” says study lead Elsa Olivetti, a materials scientist and engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Olivetti and her colleagues calculated just how short cobalt supplies could fall if electric vehicles (EVs) take off as expected—and the findings are sobering.

Lithium battery cathodes are made of layers of lithium metal oxides that contain some combination of cobalt and other metals. Cobalt’s unique atomic properties let cathodes pack a lot of energy into a small space and help to maintain the cathodes’ layered structure.

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