Cobalt Is Used for Electric Vehicle and Electronics Batteries – Can Supply Meet Demand?

Copper mining slag dump in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Greater use of electric vehicles might be good for the environment, but further growth hinges on continued availability of critical battery components such as cobalt. Cell phones and other electronics also depend on the element’s availability. Supplies of the metal are adequate in the short term, but shortages could develop down the road if refining and recycling aren’t ramped up or made more efficient, according to research published in ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology today (February 19, 2020.)

Roughly 60% of mined cobalt is sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The element is often recovered as a byproduct from mining copper and nickel, meaning that demand and pricing for those other metals affects the availability of cobalt. Half of the current supply of cobalt is incorporated into cathodes for lithium-ion batteries, and many of those batteries are used in consumer electronics and electric vehicles. Demand for these vehicles and their batteries is growing swiftly: In 2018, the global electric car fleet numbered in excess of 5.1 million, up 2 million from the prior year, according to the International Energy Agency. Elsa Olivetti and coworkers wanted to find out if planned cobalt expansions could keep pace with this brisk growth.

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