Substitute will not dampen cobalt demand

20th January 2023 By: Leah Shelene Asaram - Features Reporter

Substitute will not dampen cobalt demand

COBALT Cobalt is a key component in rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) and mobile phones

Cobalt is vital for the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries, but research shows that cobalt can result in oxygen release at high voltage, which damages the batteries. Moreover, the vast majority of the world’s cobalt reserves are in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which presents security of supply concerns.

Consequently, while efforts continue to find a substitute for cobalt in lithium-ion batteries, reagent experts Axis House sales manager Carina Claassen stresses that cobalt is still required for many other processes such as superalloys, magnets and catalysts for petroleum and chemical industries.

She notes that cobalt is a key component in rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) and mobile phones. Although demand for smartphones and other electronics that require rechargeable batteries continues to grow, the EV market has become a primary source of cobalt demand.

The lithium-ion batteries that power EVs require lithium, graphite and cobalt, besides other raw materials, and demand for these important commodities is expected to keep rising as the shift towards clean technologies continues, notes Claassen.

Although cobalt is critical, there are not enough cobalt reserves globally, she adds.

Reserves are heavily concentrated in the DRC, with smaller quantities processed in the US, Canada and Australia.

Claassen adds that the future for cobalt remains bright through the next few years, despite its challenges, as the world moves towards decarbonisation and global electrification: “With a 60% increase in EVs by 2030, we foresee exceptional growth opportunities for cobalt.”

Copper Demand

Copper is also an essential component in EVs and is used in wind turbines, solar panels and wiring.

“A pure EV can contain more than a mile of copper wiring in its stator windings,” Claassen states, adding that “the increasing demand for EVs will significantly impact on the copper market”.

Global demand for copper is projected to grow to 45-million tons by 2030, she notes.

“Many base metals, including copper, have been moved on to governments’ critical minerals listing, whereby they list the minerals essential for the functioning of our modern technologies and, thus, the lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed.”

As a result, governments will often try to secure the supply of critical minerals by prioritising funding for research, exploration or mining activities that support the production of key minerals, or will champion policies that border on resource nationalism, with the latter often resulting in a supply deficit.

Claassen notes that long-term growth will be experienced as the demand for base metals increases. However, in the short term, China has the largest demand for base metals and with its current Covid policies – while slightly relaxed following protests – and a significant slowdown in its property sector, initial industrial demand for copper will waiver.

However copper prices are expected to increase from 2025 to 2030 and with the surge of EV and other ‘green’ technologies on the horizon, copper producers will be in a good position for the foreseeable future, she concludes.