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Cobalt thrifting in EV batteries won’t dent price any time soon

Even best-case, early roll-out of new cobalt-light batteries won’t solve supply issues 

Cobalt, a crucial element in batteries for cellphones and electric vehicles, has been drifting lower since hitting near 10-year peaks on the LME in March, but is still up nearly fourfold from its 2016 trough.

Mindful of the fact that the volatile commodity reached $115,000 a tonne a decade ago, long before EV demand was included in price projections, battery makers have been working hard to find a substitute for cobalt, or at least reduce the required loading to as little as possible.

Lithium-ion batteries using nickel-cobalt-manganese (NCM) cathodes favoured by most vehicle makers contain around a third cobalt with a chemical composition of 111 – 1 part nickel, 1 part cobalt and 1 part manganese.

Battery manufacturers (with ample pressure from the auto industry) are hard at work to get the mix to 811 or better. NCM batteries with 523 (20% cobalt) chemistries are being mass-produced and Tesla claims its nickel-cobalt-aluminum (NCA) technology has cobalt content equivalent to 811.

In a trenchant new note Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a provider of price information and research on battery supply chains, warns that the impact of 811 “is going to be minimal in the short term”.

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