The ramp up of plug-in vehicle adoption could falter if new mines are not discovered that contain the vital ingredients for lithium-ion battery production.
Cobalt is a key material for ‘long run’ electric vehicle (EV) batteries that require higher performance characteristics (energy density, battery life and stability).
Trent Mell, president and chief executive of Canadian-based First Cobalt Corp, a company set up specifically to mine for cobalt, said the mineral’s scarcity is set to upset the supply chain for car manufacturers as it makes up a key part needed by lithium-ion batteries used with pure electric and hybrid vehicles.
Prices for cobalt have doubled in the past two years to $30 (£23) a pound. But this has only added approximately $180 (£136) to the price of a battery per vehicle. Mell says there is a deficit in production that will continue until at least 2025 and can only be solved by new mines.
He told Fleet News that if these mines are not discovered, manufacturers will not be able to fulfil their EV production ambitions.
Mell said: “Cobalt mining always used to be secondary as a by-product from mining for copper and nickel, but such is the demand globally for EV production that there is now a rush of 100 companies looking for new discoveries specifically focusing on cobalt as the main property.”
Mell said the lack of supply would not immediately impact plug-in vehicle prices in a “big way” as £136 to the cost of a £30,000 is not a huge increase, but for manufacturers it is going to cause a problem in their supply chain and push down the scale of manufacturing.
The very latest battery design prevalent in cars like the latest generation Nissan Leaf is called ‘811’. They offer more range and power, and require less cobalt than previous designs. However, cobalt still represents 10% of a battery’s cathode material (the rest being 80% nickel and 10% manganese).
For all current EV production, most batteries still need a higher percentage of cobalt in their make-up.
Mell said that regardless of how quickly EVs take hold as a mainstream vehicle choice, the fact governments and manufacturers are moving towards zero-emissions capability will mean the search for new cobalt deposits is vital.
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