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Study shows hybrids and EVs to drive lithium and cobalt demand by a factor of 10 to more than 20

A new study by researchers at Leiden University in The Netherlands, with colleagues at the University of Freiburg (Germany) and PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, shows that climate policies can strongly increase metal demand. In an open-access paper published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, the team explores toward 2050 for the demand of copper, tantalum, neodymium, cobalt, and lithium in electricity production, cars, and electronic appliances.

Results show that total demand for copper, neodymium, and tantalum might increase by a factor of roughly 2 to 3.2, mostly as a result of population and GDP growth. The demand for lithium and cobalt is expected to increase much more, by a factor of 10 to more than 20, as a result of future hybrid and full electric car purchases.

Indexed growth factors of annual demand for five metals, by product category. The growth factor is based on the medium estimates, using the average of 2045–2050 over the average of 2010–2015. For cobalt and lithium in cars, the demand growth factors are much larger as indicated in numbers. Deetman et al. Click to enlarge.

In this paper, we address the first steps toward integrating the dynamics of material demand into existing global energy models by developing an approach to generate metal demand scenarios using information from the global integrated assessment model IMAGE. We estimate the metal demand for three application groups that are relevant for energy demand (cars and appliances) and supply (electricity generation). The related research questions are, first, how can we link the outcomes of integrated assessment models to generate metal demand scenarios? Second, what is the expected annual demand for copper, tantalum, neodymium, cobalt, and lithium for cars, appliances and electricity generation by 2050? Answering these questions helps to improve the understanding of the combined energy-resource system, which is relevant for both climate policies as well as resource oriented policies.

—Deetman et al.

The researchers started with data available from the IMAGE scenarios. IMAGE is an integrated assessment model describing global environmental change based on a detailed description of both energy and land use.

On the basis of the available model detail, they used a dynamic stock model to compile the available product and capital stock data from IMAGE into data on the annual demand for cars, appliances, and energy generation technologies. Subsequently, they added information on the metal composition of these products in order to derive the annual demand for five metals, which were selected based on data availability.

Key data used from IMAGE are the global total person kilometers driven by passenger car annually, the global total number of in-use appliances per household, and the newly installed power generation capacity, globally.

… the rise in cobalt and lithium demand toward 2050 are explained by the demand for cars, which is in turn explained by their requirement in battery packs of hybrid and full electric cars. The metal demand from cars is consistently higher in a climate policy scenario, because the metal requirement is higher in all low-emission vehicles. This is however not the case for electricity generation technologies, as the deployment of wind turbines and photovoltaic cells under a climate policy scenario increase the demand for copper and neodymium, while they decrease the demand for tantalum and cobalt. The latter are generally used as alloys in temperature resistant steels, which are only applied in combustion-based power plants.

—Deetman et al.


  • Sebastiaan Deetman, Stefan Pauliuk, Detlef P. van Vuuren, Ester van der Voet, and Arnold Tukker (2018) “Scenarios for Demand Growth of Metals in Electricity Generation Technologies, Cars, and Electronic Appliances” Environmental Science & Technology doi: 10.1021/acs.est.7b05549



No mention of them factoring in the move to NMC-811 from NMC-622 meaning half the cobalt.

Spot prices have been increasing for years yet the trend of cheaper batteries continues unabated.

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