Cobalt Institute: cobalt market weakened since 2022 peak, but in longer term, demand will outpace supply
The Cobalt Institute’s Cobalt Market Report, prepared by Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, finds that cobalt market conditions have weakened substantially since the price peak in 2022. This dynamic will likely remain through to 2024, the report says, as a plentiful and growing supply surplus maintains pressure on prices. However, in the longer term, demand for cobalt will outpace supply, lifting prices and supporting a new wave of supply side investment.
In 2022, the EV sector was the strongest performer, now accounting for 40% of the total cobalt market. Because of its exceptional properties, cobalt is expected to remain a key raw material for the entire battery supply chain, despite discussions on substitution. Cobalt-containing chemistries represented 63% of cathode demand in 2022. They will remain a critical part of the EV sector and are expected to prevail in Europe and North America.
EVs alone supported 86% of annual demand growth while the traditional, non-battery applications accounted for just 6% of growth (with a 28% share of 2022 demand). Total cobalt demand rose 13% y/y in 2022 to 187 kt.
Nickel-cobalt-manganese (NCM) chemistries became the largest driver of cobalt demand, above all other end-use markets. 2022 was the first year in which lithium cobalt oxide (LCO) demand was not the primary driver of cobalt demand from battery applications.
Weakness in the portable electronics markets was a major theme for cobalt in 2022—LCO cathodes are the most cobalt-intensive of the major chemistries and account for close to 80% of the portables market.
The cobalt industry is optimistic the cobalt market will continue to grow in the coming years, driven by the success of cobalt’s use in superalloys and hard metals, and particularly in EVs. Cobalt-containing batteries are key for EVs safety, performance and stability—a factor that will continue to define consumer preferences in Europe and North America.—Caroline Braibant, Interim Director General at the Cobalt Institute
Mined supply grew faster in 2022 than in 2021 (21% vs 14% y/y) and approached 200 kt, alongside easing supply chain constraints. The DRC remained the major supplier, with a 73% share, and contributed 70% of annual growth.
Indonesia became the second-largest producer in 2022, due to the rapid development of domestic nickel-cobalt mines and high pressure acid leach capacity, overtaking established producers including Australia and the Philippines. With 5% of 2022 supply, it remains a long way behind the DRC, despite supporting 20% of global annual growth, although long term growth potential is high.
Demand is forecast to rise by more than 200 kt to 2030 with the market size doubling relative to 2022 and approaching 400 kt—this demand story shows a strong outlook for cobalt despite some efforts to reduce material intensity.