With the accelerating transition to electric vehicles (EVs), demand for the materials used to produce batteries will increase significantly and rapidly. Aside from the lithium needed to produce modern lithium-ion batteries, much attention is focused on the cost of the materials used for EV battery cathode production.
Cobalt is an important ingredient in lithium-ion battery cathode production, accounting for about a quarter of the cost of the battery. The price for cobalt spiked to $40 per pound in 2018, but returned to $25 dollars per pound in 2021. Cobalt is now trading on the London Metal Exchange (LME) at around $79,000 per tonne (US$35.83/lb), while a 15-month contract is currently bidding for more than US$80,000/tonne (US$36.29/lb).
(The next most expensive material is nickel—$9 per pound in 2021. Nickel prices have now soared to $52,700 a metric ton (US$23.90/lb)—the highest in the 35-year history of the contract trading on the LME—driven by concern over Russian supplies.)
Due to the high cost and price volatility associated with cobalt, battery manufacturers/researchers are seeking alternatives to reduce or eliminate the need for cobalt in battery production.
A team from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) recently reviewed the science and technology gaps and potential of numerous cobalt-free Li-ion cathodes including layered, spinel, olivine, and disordered rock-salt systems. Their paper is published in Advanced Energy Materials.
They found that while “zero-cobalt” Li-ion batteries to enable sustainable production of EVs in the coming decades has enormous promise, scale-up and manufacturing bottlenecks associated with these materials must also be addressed to enable widespread adoption in commercial batteries.
Nitin Muralidharan, Ethan C. Self, Marm Dixit, Zhijia Du, Rachid Essehli, Ruhul Amin, Jagjit Nanda, Ilias Belharouak (2022) “Next-Generation Cobalt-Free Cathodes – A Prospective Solution to the Battery Industry's Cobalt Problem” Advanced Energy Materials doi: 10.1002/aenm.202103050