Changing tech trends in top auto market China reduce demand for nickel and cobalt
TOKYO — Prices for key metals used in electric-vehicle batteries have diverged, with lithium holding strong on brisk demand and tight supply while nickel and cobalt start to fall out of favor in the crucial Chinese market.
All of these materials are used in cathodes. These components make up about 40% of the cost of a battery cell, which itself accounts for a sizable chunk of electric vehicle production expenses.
Lithium remains a major contributor to these costs. A benchmark price for lithium carbonate stood at about 470,000 yuan ($70,000) per ton as of Monday, according to Argus Media. While this represents a 6% dip from the mid-March peak, it is still up 70% from the end of 2021, and close to the highest point in data going back to 2016.
Nickel’s gains have been modest by comparison, at about 8% this year. Three-month futures on the London Metal Exchange were priced at $22,499 per ton Monday, down 53% from the most recent peak on March 7, when prices spiked in chaotic trading against the background of the war in Ukraine. Cobalt peaked in May before sinking in June, and is now down 5% from the end of last year, at about $32 per pound.