Essential Power…Infinite Possibilities

About Cobalt

Facts

Cobalt







  • Atomic number: 27
  • Atomic symbol: Co
  • Atomic weight: 58.933195
  • Density: 8.86 grams per cubic cm
  • Melting point: 2,723F or 1,495C
  • Boiling point: 5,301F or 2,927C

The Market for Cobalt

Cobalt is a physically traded commodity where published market prices are derived from telephone surveys with traders and consumers. Prices of cobalt are provided in two grades: 99.3% and 99.8% purity.

Metal Bulletin publications have traditionally been the source for market prices of cobalt. However, in 2010 the London Metal Exchange (LME) introduced the cobalt contract where prices of exchange traded contracts are published. From 2010 when the LME first listed cobalt through 2017 LME contracts were based on 99.3% cobalt. Beginning in 2018 LME contracts have been based on 99.8% purity cobalt.

LME Cobalt Price

Infomine Cobalt Charts

Applications

Cobalt has many unique characteristics including its magnetic properties, resistance to high temperatures, wear, and corrosion. 




These properties make cobalt an essential metal used in metallurgical and chemical applications, which include:

  • Precursors (cobalt salts) for cathodes in rechargeable batteries.
  • Applications where high temperature strength is critical like jet turbine generators, jet turbines for aero-engines, other aerospace applications, and land based turbines for power generation.
  • Building powerful magnets by alloying cobalt with aluminum and nickel. Permanent magnets are used in wind turbines, and electric motors for automobiles and aircraft.
  • Due to its appearance, hardness and resistance to corrosion cobalt is excellent for electroplating.
  • A component of vitamin B12, essential to living organisms.
  • Cobalt acetate used in the production of polyethylene terephthalate to produce polyester fibres for textile, packaging and bottles.
  • Cobalt oxide used in paint and dyes including green and blue colours in glass and ceramics.
  • Radioactive cobalt used in cancer treatments.

Cobalt used in chemical applications for rechargeable batteries accounted for 53% of total global demand for cobalt in 2017 (Source: Roskill).

Rechargeable Batteries

The largest demand for cobalt has been from the rechargeable batteries industry since the 1990s. Cobalt was initially used in NiCd and NiMH cells, but since the invention of the lithium-ion battery in 1995 this technology accounted for all of the growth in cobalt consumption from the batteries sector (Source: CRU).

There are many lithium-ion battery technologies that have been developed for different end uses but the three main drivers for change include safety, the need to reduce manufacturing cost and the need for increased storage capacity. Cobalt is used in the cathode component of the lithium-ion battery, the most expensive component. Cobalt affects the battery’s charge time and energy density resulting in different battery chemistries being suitable for different end uses. Lithium manganese oxide has been used in cathodes to improve safety by decreasing the battery’s potential to overheat, which reduces the intensity of cobalt used in batteries.

The following table illustrates the different types of lithium-ion batteries that are currently in the market, their cobalt composition, precursors, end uses, and current market share:

Lithium Ion Batteries Cobalt Composition Precursors End Uses 2016 Market Share
LCO (Lithium Cobalt Oxide) 60% Cobalt oxide High capacity storage: cell phones, iPads, cameras, and wearables 65%
NMC (Lithium Nickle Manganese Cobalt Oxide) 10-20% Cobalt sulfate Lower capacity but high specific power and long life: Laptops and EVs 30%
NCA (Lithium Nickle Cobalt Aluminum Oxide) 9% Cobalt sulfate EVs, electric grid storage: Tesla’s EVs and Smart Grid/Home Storage, and laptops 5%

(Source: Avicenne, CRU)

LCO, NMC and NCA batteries accounted for approximately 90% of the market share of batteries in 2016. Demand for NMC and NCA batteries are expected to grow in the near future due to their uses in EVs and Smart Grid Storage, this is driving the demand for cobalt sulfate (Source: CRU).

For more information on battery technology visit The Evolution of Battery Technology via VisualCapitalist.com.

Demand

Refined cobalt consumption has been steadily increasing over the past couple of years with 83,000 tonnes in 2013, 89,000 tonnes in 2014, 90,150 tonnes in 2015 and 98,000 tonnes in 2016. Global cobalt demand exceeded 100,000 tonnes for the first time in 2017. Demand for cobalt used in metallurgical applications is forecasted to grow steadily from 36,690 tonnes in 2016 to 50,000 tonnes in 2025, driven by the aerospace industry. Demand for cobalt used in non-metallurgical applications is forecasted to grow at a faster rate, at 6.7% compounded annual growth rate (“CAGR”) from 2015 to 2020 and 5.7% CAGR from 2020 to 2025.

End user consumption of cobalt will also change rapidly by 2020, with the most significant change in demand by lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles (“EVs”) by 114%:

The main three types of batteries in the rechargeable lithium ion batteries market is comprised of the lithium cobalt oxide (“LCO”), nickel manganese cobalt (“NMC”) and lithium nickel cobalt aluminum (“NCA”) cells. These three types of batteries made up 75% of the rechargeable batteries market share in 2015. LCO cathode contains the highest cobalt by weight in the form of cobalt oxide followed by NMC and NCA batteries which contain cobalt in the form of cobalt sulfate. LCO batteries are the largest consumer of cobalt and account for 28% of global consumption. NMC and NCA batteries, used in EVs, is expected to have the highest demand growth in the mid and long term range forecast. The growth in the EVs market will increase consumption of cobalt sulfate to 27,500 tonnes in 2020 and 41,500 tonnes in 2025, accounting for roughly 40% of chemical cobalt consumption in 2025.

Energy requirement in MWh for EVs are expected to grow at 16% per annum until 2025. Battery supply is one of the key hurdles to EV growth, especially to meet demand requirements beyond 2019 and 2020. To produce this energy requirement, the battery sector is forecasted to consume 75% to 78% of total cobalt production. In addition to Tesla Motors, Inc.’s US$5.0 billion EV “Gigafactory”, LG Chem has confirmed a plant in Poland and Daimler has commenced a €500 million battery assembly plant. Recently, the following companies have also announced investments in EVs:

The EV market continues to rise in popularity and importance and there are several other EV manufacturers which have announced plans for new vehicle production. It has been forecasted that strong demand from the EV market can potentially double current cobalt demand by 2022. Stationary storage cells used to store energy from sources such as wind and solar powered generators and off peak grid charging are also contributing to this significant growth in the markets.

Supply

Cobalt is produced primarily as a by-product of nickel and copper mining, with 60% of cobalt coming from copper mining, 38% from nickel production, and 2% from primary cobalt mines in Morocco and Uganda. Weak nickel and copper prices have negatively impacted cobalt supply due to the suspension and closure of a number of large nickel and copper projects including Glencore/Katanga Mining (representing 10% of global cobalt metal supply), Votorantim, ERG/Chambishi, Norilsk Nickel, and Queensland Nickel.

Cobalt Supply










Approximately 65% of world cobalt supply is mined from the Democratic Republic of Congo (“DRC”) with 69,200 tonnes produced in 2015. Despite the reduction in cobalt production related to nickel and copper projects, total cobalt output from the DRC increased by 9% in 2015 and this was due to an increase in cobalt production from artisanal mining. Artisanal mining accounts for approximately 22% of total cobalt production from the DRC. Supply from artisanal production is expected to taper off as easily accessible high grade reserves get depleted. Current low cobalt prices make artisanal mining less profitable and this may also impact artisanal mining output. In addition, Amnesty International published a report in January 2016 titled This Is What We Die For, which exposes abuses of the human rights, safety and environmental issues related to artisanal mining. The article also made allegations against global technology companies for using cobalt sourced from artisanal mining supply, highlighting the importance of supply chain management and traceability of the sourcing raw materials. This may also result in regulation changes relating to artisanal mining activities in the DRC.


China is the largest importer of cobalt raw materials estimated at 65% or 59,223 tonnes of world supply in 2015. Approximately 94% of Chinese import comes from cobalt contained in intermediates such as crude hydroxide produced in the DRC. In turn, China is also the largest producer of refined cobalt with a 9.3% growth in production in 2016 representing 78% or 48,910 tonnes of world production. This growth is predominately driven by demand from downstream markets. This growth forces China’s biggest refiners and producers to expand and aggressively acquire cobalt assets.

Supply and Demand Balance

Forecasted CAGR for cobalt supply is 2.4%. As a result of an increase in demand and reduction in supply of cobalt, the overall supply-demand balance is forecasted to progressively tighten over the medium and long term with minimal prospects of new cobalt projects coming into production within the next decade. Demand for metallurgical cobalt continues to grow against supply even though there is a small surplus in metallurgical cobalt supply.

A sgnificant increase in demand of non-metallurgical or cobalt chemicals used in rechargeable batteries will cause deep deficits. The combined effect is expected to result in a projected deficit of 10,000 tonnes annually by 2020.

Historically, the metallurgical supply demand balance has the most impact in setting the market cobalt price and this tends to also influence the price of non-metallurgical or cobalt chemicals. The serious deficit expected in the non-metallurgical or cobalt chemicals may change these market dynamics.

Cobalt prices have increased significantly since the beginning of 2017 as end users and hedge funds secure supply of cobalt metal and sulfate in anticipation of further supply and demand deficits.

Cobalt and the Idaho Cobalt Project (ICP)

Cobalt metal, powders and chemicals remain critical in the production of rechargeable batteries and the ICP is the only primary cobalt deposit located in the United States that is environmentally permitted with the potential for near term production.

These are key attributes of the ICP that can address some of the risks and issues faced by the world cobalt market today:

  • As the ICP is a primary cobalt deposit (less than 2% of current world production of cobalt comes from primary deposits), it is not directly influenced by copper and nickel markets.
  • Being located in the United States eliminates the geopolitical and human rights issues that are attached to cobalt that comes from the DRC.
  • The ICP offers a unique opportunity for consumers to secure an ethically sourced, environmentally sound supply of high grade cobalt, mined safely and responsibly.

eCobalt believes that the ICP could be well positioned to capitalize on the growing demand for cobalt driven by the rechargeable battery and renewable energy sectors. In addition, previous engineering studies, now considered out of date, demonstrated the ability of the project to produce high purity cobalt metal suitable for critical applications in the aerospace sector. These are the two fastest growing sectors in the cobalt market.