Cobalt, a crucial battery material, is suddenly superabundant (The Economist – February 6, 2023)

Just a year ago a global crunch in one metal looked likely to single-handedly derail the energy transition. Not only was cobalt, a crucial battery material, being dug up far too slowly to meet soaring demand, but the lion’s share of known reserves sat in Congo, a country rife with instability, corruption and child labour.

Fast forward to today and the price of the blue metal, which had more than doubled between summer 2021 and spring 2022, to $82,000 a tonne, has collapsed to $35,000, not far from historic lows.

The story is partly one of reduced demand. Most cobalt goes into the battery packs which power smartphones, tablets and laptops. Appetite for these, already strong in the 2010s, exploded during the covid-19 pandemic.

It has since waned as people spend less time staring at their screens: as demand for consumer electronics fell, so did that for cobalt. Even a boom in electric vehicles has not been sufficient to counteract this, since manufacturers have done their best to reduce use of the formerly super-expensive metal.

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