Cobalt prices went ballistic in 2017 with the metal quoted on the LME ending the year at $75,500, a 129% annual surge sparked by intensifying supply fears and an expected demand spike from battery markets. Measured from its record low hit in February 2016, the metal is more than $50,000 more expensive.
Given these lofty levels – and considering that the volatile commodity topped $100,000 a tonne a decade ago – battery makers and energy storage researchers have been working hard to find a substitute for cobalt, or at least reduce the required loading.
Now that breakthrough may just have been made.
Backed by the US Department of Energy, researchers at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering led by professor of materials science and engineering Christopher Wolverton, have developed a lithium battery which replaces cobalt with iron (iron ore was priced at $76 a tonne on Thursday).
Northwestern in partnership with the Argonne National Laboratory created a rechargeable lithium-iron-oxide battery that’s not only much cheaper but can also cycle more lithium ions than its common lithium-cobalt-oxide counterpart, technology that has been on the market for 20 years:
“Because there is only one lithium ion per one cobalt, that limits of how much charge can be stored. What’s worse is that current batteries in your cell phone or laptop typically only use half of the lithium in the cathode.”
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