Cobalt Shortages Ahead – by Mark Lapedus (SemiConductor Engineering – September 10, 2018)

SemiConductor Engineering

Growth in electric vehicles and batteries is causing supply issues that could affect broad swaths of the electronics market.

Rapid growth of electric vehicles is creating an enormous demand for cobalt, causing tight supply, high prices and supply chain issues for this critical material.

Cobalt is a ferromagnetic metal and one of the key materials used in lithium-ion batteries for cell phones, notebook PCs, battery-electric cars and hybrids. It also is used in alloys and semiconductors. And while the IC industry consumes a tiny percentage of the world’s cobalt supply, that supply is tightening.

For cobalt, the big growth market is the electric car business, which requires tons of cobalt a year. In the supply chain, metals are mined and processed into cobalt.

Refined cobalt is sold to lithium-ion battery makers, which then sells rechargeable batteries to electric car makers like BMW, Nissan, Tesla, Toyota and others. A smartphone contains 5 to 20 grams of cobalt, compared to 4,000 to 30,000 grams, or 9 to 66 pounds, of cobalt per vehicle, according to Fortune Minerals.

Cobalt provides high energy density and thermal stability in a battery. Lithium-ion batteries consist of an anode, cathode and other components. Graphite is used for the anode. In one example of the cathode, Tesla uses a nickel-cobalt-aluminum-oxide (NCA) chemistry. In simple terms, lithium ions move from the anode to the cathode and back, causing the battery to charge or discharge.

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