Samsung SDI Can’t Skirt Cobalt’s Crunch – by David Fickling (Bloomberg News – February 13, 2018)

Demand is rising much faster than supply, used mobile phones or none.

Can recycling save the world from a looming shortage of cobalt? The idea has sound precedent. Lead — an essential ingredient in traditional car batteries, just as cobalt will be for the coming generation of lithium-ion cells — is probably the most extensively recycled industrial raw material on earth.

With cobalt demand from cars, electric buses and utility-scale batteries set to soar over the next decade, mining cobalt from spent batteries rather than the ground could go some way toward keeping the market balanced.

That’s the hope of Samsung SDI Co. The South Korean components company will sign a deal with a cobalt-recycling business to secure supplies from used mobile phones, Bloomberg News reported Tuesday, listing American Manganese Inc. and Umicore SA without saying whether either was under consideration for the tie-up.

It’s not the first major player to make such a move. BASF SE signed an agreement with MMC Norilsk Nickel PJSC last year to source cobalt and nickel from the Russian miner’s pits, while Volkswagen AG spent several months fruitlessly seeking to lock up long-term supply agreements, Reuters reported in December citing unnamed industry sources.

The barely suppressed sense of panic comes from the scale of the supply-side challenge facing cobalt.

For the rest of this column: