Whether it is the exponential growth in electric vehicles traveling global highways, the massive need for storing energy at solar and wind electrical generating facilities, or cutting the cords on our electronic devices, the world is becoming increasingly dependent on lithium-ion batteries.
And this is driving up the demand for cobalt, a critical safety ingredient in the cathodes of these energy storage cells.
“Globally, the leading use is in the manufacture of cathode materials for rechargeable batteries – primarily lithium-ion, nickel-cadmium, and nickel-metal-hydride batteries – which are used in consumer electronics, electric and hybrid-electric vehicles, energy storage units, and power tools,” the United States Geological Survey wrote in the cobalt section of a 2018 report on critical minerals.
The projected massive growth in cobalt demand is further complicated by the fact that cobalt is seldom mined as a standalone metal. Instead, this increasingly needed battery metal is typically produced as a byproduct at copper and nickel mines. This means that any future cobalt mines would likely need to consider the economics of the moneymaking metal in the deposit.
“This situation limits producers’ flexibility in adjusting the amount of cobalt mined in response to changes in demand and can result in periods of oversupply or shortage,” according to the USGS.