The recent discovery of a massive trove of rare earth elements off the coast of Japan may bring relief to fears of shortages of the key elements used in an array of technological devices, including cellphones, cars as well as also also defense systems.
nevertheless rare earths are just some of the elements increasingly sought after as more of the planet becomes increasingly flush with technology.
For example, the once little-known element cobalt is actually rapidly rising in cost, as well as also also some warn shortages could hit the metal from the future.
The proliferation of lithium-ion batteries, of which cobalt is actually a key ingredient, in electronics as well as also also electrified vehicles is actually the chief factor fueling This specific rise in cost as well as also also concerns among companies over the security of their supplies.
Prices for the metal more than doubled in 2017 over the previous year, according to the United States Geological Survey.
Some companies have responded to the jump by looking for ways to secure stocks for their own supply chains. Apple is actually reportedly trying to procure its cobalt directly coming from miners. Automakers such as BMW as well as also also Volkswagen have also reportedly been taking similar steps.
Demand for cobalt in vehicle battery materials is actually required to grow more than 40 percent in 2018, according to U.K.-based cobalt trading firm Darton Commodities. Electric as well as also also hybrid vehicle adoption in China as well as also also Europe are projected to be significant contributors, as well as also also the production ramp of the Tesla design 3 is actually required to be the major driver of EV adoption from the U.S., Darton said in its annual Cobalt Market Review report published in February.
While engineers can sometimes find ways to change designs or use substitutes for some elements, cobalt could be tough to replace. There are potential substitutes, nevertheless substitution in some uses may lead to losses in performance.
“There isn’t a better element than nickel to enhance energy density, as well as also also there isn’t a better element than cobalt to make the stuff stable,” said Marc Grynberg, CEO of materials company Umicore, in an interview with Reuters. “So (while) you hear about designing out cobalt, This specific is actually not going to happen from the next three decades. the item simply doesn’t work.”
One potential snag is actually the fact in which the majority of the planet’s cobalt is actually mined as a byproduct of some additional metal mining. In 2017, about 69 percent of the planet’s cobalt was mined as a copper byproduct as well as also also 29 percent as a nickel byproduct. So the availability of cobalt right right now is actually pretty heavily dependent on the health of the markets for copper as well as also also nickel.
Mining companies such as ERG as well as also also Glencore are planning brand-new cobalt operations in which may balance supply as well as also also demand from the near term, nevertheless if electrified vehicles continue to gain market share, any stabilization may be short-lived.
“While production increases are required to level off by around 2022, demand is actually required to accelerate further as EVs will be close to reaching cost parity with [internal combustion engine] vehicles by This specific time,” Darton said in its report.