Cobalt is one of the primary metals in lithium-ion batteries, which power everything from laptops to cell phones to electric cars. Cobalt has been a popular choice for batteries because the metal increases battery life and energy density, which in the case of EVs means range, by keeping the battery structure stable as the battery is continuously charged and discharged.
But cobalt, which is typically extracted as a byproduct of nickel and copper mining, is one of the most expensive materials in a battery. While battery prices have fallen 89% between 2010 and 2020, they still make up about 30% of the total cost of an electric vehicle, according to BloombergNEF. Cobalt extraction is also largely concentrated in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it is linked to human rights abuses and child labor. Plus with EV sales worldwide expected to skyrocket, demand for raw battery materials like cobalt is expected to outstrip supply.
“Comparing demand and supply for cobalt, there is, geologically speaking, there is enough raw material in the Earth’s crust. Same with lithium, same with nickel, same with manganese,” says Sam Adham, a senior powertrain research analyst at LMC Automotive. ” It’s just that the production and the processing of that material, just like all the other materials, is nowhere near the level of that it needs to be to sustain the level of demand.”
These are some of the reasons why battery manufacturers like Samsung and Panasonic and car makers like Tesla and VW, along with a number of start-ups, are working to eliminate the need for cobalt completely. Watch the video to find out more about what technologies companies are using to curb our dependence on cobalt-containing batteries and how eliminating cobalt can make EVs cheaper.