Fueling future generations of electric vehicles is making some mining entrepreneurs rich as demand grows for critical metals, such as lithium and cobalt. But as with all commodity booms, there are early signs of a shortage turning into a flood, with a predictably depressing effect on prices.
Lithium is the metal most likely to be hit by a surge in production and a fall in price, especially if demand for electric cars does not match optimistic forecasts.
Ironically, it could be a shortage of cobalt that delays the production of the lithium-ion batteries needed to power electric cars and a range of other products, such as smartphones and household appliances.
Despite their name, most lithium-ion batteries also require cobalt and graphite to do their job of retaining and discharging electricity, and while lithium and graphite are plentiful, it is cobalt that has manufacturers of battery-based products worried.
Carmakers, such as Germany’s BMW, and electronic gadget makers, such as Apple, are scouring the world for supplies of cobalt, a rare metal that has tripled in price over the past year to $80,000 a ton, with 60% of global supply coming from the bloody Democratic Republic of Congo.