Cobalt – a potential bottleneck in the transition to electric mobility

Posted: November 13, 2018 by oldbrew in Emissions, opinion, Travel
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Typical electric car set-up


We keep hearing this, but the suspicion is that only a fraction of vehicle users are at all bothered, as most don’t want an expensive range-limited electric car with uncertain charging options anyway. Notions of slaying phantom emissions dragons won’t be enough to make them popular, as sales to date show.

The coming electric vehicle boom will significantly increase the demand for cobalt in the EU and globally, says Phys.org.

As a result, demand is expected to exceed supply already in 2020 and the EU must take steps to boost supply and curb demand without hindering the growth in electric vehicles, according to a new report by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), presented at the EU Raw Material Week in Brussels.

Cobalt, a critical raw material for electric transport

Cobalt is necessary for the production of the most common types of lithium-ion batteries, which in turn are powering the current boom in electric vehicles.

And while the switch from combustion engines could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it could also create bottlenecks that may stall the process unless they are identified and addressed early on.

As the world’s electric vehicle stock is expected to grow from 3.2 million in 2017 to 130 million in 2030, the overall demand for cobalt could increase threefold within the next decade, outstripping supply already in 2020.

EU and global demand for and supply of cobalt

Annual cobalt production in the EU is around 2300 tonnes, while demand is already about nine times higher.

As the gap between supply and demand is expected to increase in the next decade, the EU will continue to depend on imports for the foreseeable future.

Whereas in 2017 65 % of the world cobalt mine production (160000 tonnes) was enough to satisfy the global demand (104000 tonnes), the latter is expected to skyrocket in the next decade.

The report predicts that, under average conditions, demand will outgrow supply by 64000 tonnes in 2030.

Cobalt supply chain at risk of concentration disruption

However, the global supply chain of cobalt is fragile due to extreme concentration. On the one hand, more than half of the worldwide supply (126000 tonnes) is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

On the other hand, China produces almost half of the world’s refined cobalt.

According to the JRC report these risks will persist in the future, increasing in the short term but potentially decreasing between 2020 and 2030, when currently ongoing exploration projects could add new suppliers and diversify the market.

Rising prices may impact battery production

Cobalt prices have tripled between 2015 and 2018. A continued trend might seriously impact battery manufacturing, as cobalt accounts for a significant part of production costs.

Substituting cobalt with other metals is technically possible and could reduce demand from electric-vehicle manufacturing by almost 30%.

However, substitution will not be enough to resolve imbalance in the mid-to-long term.

Continued here.

Comments
  1. Curious George says:

    Doomsayers always argue that such and such resource will be exhausted .. by 1980, 1990, 2000, 2020 etc. Let’s not fall in that trap.

  2. oldbrew says:

    Hard to see how this can fail to make EVs yet more expensive.

  3. cognog2 says:

    I understand that there is also a potential problem with the supply of some of the rare earth elements needed for efficient motors and electrical equipment. Again China seems to have many of these under its belt as well as Cobalt.
    As for cobalt mining in the Congo: It is a disgrace both in eco. and human rights terms. This rush to EVs has serious unintended consequences.

  4. oldbrew says:

    Lots more cobalt over here please…

    Spain wants to ban sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2040

    Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s government included the proposal in a draft document for an energy transition law which also calls for Spain to completely decarbonise its economy by 2050.

    https://phys.org/news/2018-11-spain-sale-gas-diesel-cars.html
    – – –
    There goes another country’s economy to its doom.

  5. Graeme No.3 says:

    oldbrew:
    The CURRENT politicians are virtue signalling only. Long before the chaos of their actions has become evident they will be gone and forgotten. Just because you’re a Socialist the law of supply and demand still applies.

  6. oldbrew says:

    Well, the UK’s ridiculous Climate Change Act is ten years old and shows no signs of being repealed. Relatively few people seem bothered by it to date. Maybe they are unaware it’s behind their steep energy bill increases.

    The BBC is still happily promoting climate cranks as usual…

    Climate change protests leads to ’22 arrests’ over blockade
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-46172661

  7. ivan says:

    There is an answer to this problem – hybrid electric cars without the batteries.

    Removing the batteries isn’t a problem because there soon won’t be the electricity to charge them if the polis don’t throw out the Climate Change Act and all the green rubbish that has grown up from it.

  8. oldbrew says:

    FYI…Mild hybrid

    Mild hybrids are generally internal combustion engines equipped with an electric machine (one motor/generator in a parallel hybrid configuration) allowing the engine to be turned off whenever the car is coasting, braking, or stopped, yet restart quickly. Mild hybrids may employ regenerative brake and some level of power assist to the internal combustion engine (ICE), but mild hybrids do not have an exclusive electric-only mode of propulsion. [bold added]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mild_hybrid

  9. oldbrew says:

    The coming electric vehicle boom

    Signs of it are hard to detect.

  10. oldbrew says:

    Why electric cars may not reduce pollution
    Bloomberg Nov 13, 2018

    Driving electric cars and scrapping your natural gas-fired boiler won’t make a dent in global carbon emissions, and may even increase pollution levels.

    Higher electrification may lead to oil demand peaking by 2030, but any reduction in emissions from the likes of electric vehicles will be offset by the increased use of power plants to charge them, according to the International Energy Agency’s annual World Energy Outlook, which plots different scenarios of future energy use.

    Read more at: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/world-news/why-electric-cars-may-not-reduce-pollution/articleshow/66602360.cms

  11. Graeme No.3 says:

    The answer is a steam powered car with the boiler fired by ORGANIC cow dung (or your local forest if the vegans ban cows).

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