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[SMM Analysis] what will be the future of cobalt metal in "cobalt-free" battery
May 20,2020 15:03CST
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Source:SMM
Honeycomb Energy pushes the "cobalt-free" battery again, and the positive electrode of the battery constantly "aims at" cobalt, all kinds of "cobalt-free" news frequently. This paper mainly collates and summarizes the global cobalt reserves, the development of cobalt in the most important downstream battery cathode materials, and the recent frequent news, and finally some views and predictions on the impact of cobalt metal are welcome to communicate at any time.
The content below was translated by Tencent automatically for reference.

SMM5 March 20:

According to the latest statistics of the United States Geological Survey in 2015, the world has proven land cobalt resources of about 25 million tons, reserves of 7.2 million tons, highly concentrated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Australia and Cuba. The distribution of cobalt resources in the world is very uneven. The combined reserves of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Australia and Cuba account for 68% of the world's total reserves. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the country with the most abundant cobalt reserves. As of 2014, the DRC's cobalt reserves reached 3.4 million tons, accounting for more than 50% of the world's total, ranking first in the world. The content of cobalt in the earth's crust is very low, the average abundance of cobalt in the earth's crust is only 0.0025%, and 90% of the cobalt in the earth's crust is dispersed. In nature, cobalt is mostly associated with copper, nickel and iron, and there are basically no independent cobalt deposits.

In battery cathode materials, cobalt provides a stable structure, but accounts for nearly 30% of the cost of cathode materials, which is the bottleneck of the development of battery technology. 50% cobalt is used in lithium batteries, with an average of about 10g of cobalt per mobile phone and 13-14kg cobalt for every electric car in Tesla.

Cobalt resources are limited to support the growth of new energy vehicles. Cathode materials have evolved from about 60% cobalt in lithium cobalt to about 12% 20% cobalt in NCM523 and NCM622, and then to about 510% cobalt in NCM811 and NCA. Since lithium cobalt oxide became the first commercial cathode material, people have been looking for other materials to replace cobalt because of the high cost and scarcity of cobalt.

"Cobalt-free" news comes out frequently. The following is SMM's summary of "Cobalt-free" and its impact on the cobalt industry. You are welcome to exchange views at any time:

Honeycomb energy

On May 18, Honeycomb President Yang Hongxin said at the online launch of Honeycomb Cobalt-free battery that Honeycomb's cobalt-free battery achieves a driving range of more than 800km and a life of more than 15 years and 1.2 million km through single crystal cobalt-free material technology, laminated cell design technology, matrix PACK design technology and vehicle specification-grade AI manufacturing.

Honeycomb Energy currently has two lithium nickel manganate battery products.

The first product is based on the cell design of the 590 module, with a capacity of 115A, the energy density of the cell reaches 245Whhand kg, can achieve a 15-year warranty of 1.2 million km on the vehicle end, and will be introduced to the market in June 2021; the characteristics of this product are based on the universal cell size design. It can be carried on most of the new pure electric platforms at present.

The second is the L6 thin cobalt-free long cell with a capacity of 226Ah, which is the first model in the world to achieve a range of 880km and is expected to be in mass production in the second half of 2021.

The safety of the battery was also guaranteed. At the conference site, Honeycomb Energy also tested the safety of the battery. Ordinary ternary high-nickel power battery and honeycomb cobalt-free battery were installed in a hot box with an internal temperature of 140 ℃ and 150 ℃ respectively. Ordinary ternary high-nickel power battery, in the hot box at 140 ℃, began to catch fire 30 minutes later. However, the honeycomb cobalt-free battery did not catch fire after 30 minutes in the hot box at 150 ℃.

The biggest problem of lithium nickel manganate material is that it is difficult to find a matching electrolyte system at present. The existing lithium hexafluorophosphate electrolyte system will be decomposed because the voltage is less than 5 volts, and the battery will fail accordingly. Therefore, at present, there are still doubts about the application of honeycomb lithium nickel manganate battery products.

In 2019, the first cobalt-free battery released by Honeycomb Energy, the performance of the cobalt-free material can reach the same level as NCM811, and the material cost can be reduced by 5%. The corresponding BOM cost of the battery can be reduced by about 5%, and the material will not be affected by strategic resources.

Tesla

Tesla Battery Day, originally scheduled for April, has been postponed because of a serious epidemic overseas. The most important part of Battery Day is Battery Black Technology. The most likely speculation is Maxwell's supercapacitor and dry cell technology, which Tesla acquired in May 2019, a global leader in dry electrode technology. The cobalt content in Tesla batteries is controlled at 3%, well below the industry average. As early as 2018, Musk said he would cut the cobalt content of the next generation of batteries to nearly zero.

Ningde era

At the investor conference in January this year, Tesla announced the introduction of Ningde era as a new power battery supplier, and the lithium iron phosphate provided by Ningde Times will be used in the domestic standard version of Model 3.

BYD

On March 29 this year, BYD released the "Blade Battery", which is essentially a lithium iron phosphate battery. Through structural innovation, BYD uses the idea of CTP to improve the efficiency of the group, improve the energy density of the group in disguise, greatly improve the volume utilization, and finally achieve the design goal of loading more cells in the same space. Compared with the traditional modular battery pack, the volume utilization of the blade battery is increased by more than 50%, and the mileage can reach 605km.

(NCMA) of Ni-Co-mn-Al quaternary battery

GM announced at EV Day that it is working with LG Chemical to mass-produce Ni-Co-mn-Al (NCMA) quaternary lithium batteries in 2021, with a cost reduction of more than 30 per cent. LG chemistry increases the content of alumina in NCMA batteries, while the content of cobalt is less than 10%.

More enterprises are arranging Ni-Co-mn-Al (NCMA) quaternary lithium batteries. The technical route is to mix some aluminum elements into the materials of Ni-Co-mn ternary batteries to inhibit the formation of unstable impurities of cobalt elements. Compared with the current ternary materials 523,811 and NCA, the nickel content of NCMA quaternary materials is close to 90%, while the cobalt content is further reduced, gradually achieving the goal of low-cobalt or cobalt-free batteries, and the post-natal cost can be reduced by more than 30%.

In the layout of NCMA battery materials, there are mainly Ningde era, BYD, Guoxuan Hi-Tech, Green Mei, Rongbai Technology and other enterprises. The mainstream view of the industry on NCMA is that at present, the content of nickel and cobalt is maintained or even better than that of NCA. The main alternative is to use ternary batteries to advance to quaternary or even more multivariate batteries, and gradually achieve the goal of low-cobalt or cobalt-free batteries.

Conclusion:

The cost of power battery still dominates the cost of the whole vehicle, about 40%. Cobalt, as part of the current cathode material for power batteries, accounts for 30% of the cost and 45% of the cost. Therefore, when laying out cathode materials, battery factories will try their best to reduce the content of cobalt in order to save cost.

The consumption of cobalt metal is divided into major categories:

At the 3C end, lithium cobalt substitutes have not been found for high-end mobile phones and tablets, so the demand for cobalt metal is reduced less. At present, mainly in the aspect of power battery, there are many kinds of cathode materials, which are intended to reduce the content of cobalt metal continuously. According to SMM statistics, according to the lithium-ion battery terminal industry, the global power consumer demand for cobalt metal accounted for about 40% of the lithium-ion battery terminal consumption to cobalt metal in 2019. Among them, the global demand for cobalt metals by high-nickel NCM811 and NCA accounts for only about 4 per cent of the global demand for cobalt metals by power consumers.

In addition, in 2019, other industries around the world demand for cobalt metal, including cemented carbide, superalloy, ceramic materials, catalysts, organic materials, magnetic materials, etc., accounting for about 30% of the total. The demand for cobalt in these traditional industries is still just needed, and there is no reduction in the trend.

At present, lithium iron phosphate still replaces the low-end ternary material market, and other new materials have not been mass-produced at present. It is not known how specific applications will be in the future, including safety, mileage and other properties.

Therefore, SMM believes that de-cobalt is only a trend at present, but it will take a long time to test the technological breakthrough to achieve "de-cobalt". The recent new crown epidemic has a greater impact on the cobalt industry, at present, enterprises mainly focus on how to tide over the difficulties in the short term, long-term expectations do not make much sense at present.

Cobalt-free
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cobalt metal

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