SHANGHAI, Jun 11 (SMM) – According to statistics from the United States Geological Survey in 2015, the world's proven land cobalt resources were about 25 million mt, with reserves of 7.2 million mt. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Australia and Cuba accounted for 68% of the global cobalt reserves. Congo (Gold) is the country with the most abundant cobalt reserves. As of 2014, cobalt reserves in Congo stood at 3.4 million mt, accounting for more than 50% of the world’s total.
Cobalt provides a stable structure for battery cathode materials, but represents nearly 30% of the cost of cathode materials, which is currently the bottleneck in the development of battery technology. 50% of the cobalt element is used in lithium batteries. On average, each mobile phone uses about 10 g of cobalt, and Tesla uses 13-14 kg of cobalt per electric car.
Cobalt resources are limited and cannot support the growth of new energy vehicles (NEVs). The cathode materials have evolved from lithium cobalt oxide (LCO) containing about 60% of cobalt, to the currently commonly used NCM523 and NCM622 containing about 12%-20% of cobalt, and then to NCM811 and NCA containing about 5-10% of cobalt. Since LCO became the first commercialised cathode material, developers have been looking for other materials that can replace cobalt because of its expensiveness and scarcity.
SVOLT Energy Technology
On May 18, Yang Hongxin, CEO of SVOLT Energy Technology, said its cobalt-free battery adopts single-crystal cobalt-free material technology, lamination cell design technology, matrix PACK design technology and vehicle regulation class AI manufacturing method to achieve a continuous driving mileage of more than 800 kilometers and a life span of more than 15 years and 1.2 million kilometers.
SVOLT currently has two types of nickel lithium manganese oxide battery products. One is based on the 590 module battery design with a capacity of 115Ah and energy density of 245Wh/kg. It can achieve a 15-year 1.2 million-kilometer warranty and is scheduled to be introduced to the market in June 2021. This model is completed on the basis of universal cell size design and can be installed onto most of the new pure electric cars. The other is L6 thin cobalt-free long battery with a capacity of 226Ah. It is the first model in the world that can achieve a continuous driving range of 880 kilometers, and is expected to realise mass production in H2 2021.
SVOLT conducted safety tests on its cobalt-free battery and ordinary ternary high-nickel motive power battery at the press conference. The ordinary ternary high-nickel battery got fire in a 140°C oven in 30 minutes, while its cobalt-free battery did not catch fire in an oven in 30 minutes even at a temperature of 150°C.
The biggest problem with nickel lithium manganese oxide materials is that it is currently difficult to find a matching electrolyte system. The existing lithium hexafluorophosphate electrolyte system is decomposed due to a voltage of less than 5 volts, and the battery fails as a result. Therefore, market still has doubts about the application of SVOLT’s nickel lithium manganese oxide battery.
In 2019, the first cobalt-free battery released by SVOLT is able to reach the same level as NCM811 in terms of the performance of cobalt-free materials and reduce material costs by 5-15% and lower the corresponding battery BOM costs by 5%.
The Tesla Battery Day, originally scheduled to be held in April, has been postponed due to COVID-19. There is speculation that Tesla will introduce the super capacitor and dry battery technology of Maxwell, a global leader in dry electrode technology acquired by Tesla in May 2019. Tesla has controlled the cobalt content in its batteries is at 3%, which is far lower than the industry average. Tesla CEO Musk said in 2018 that the cobalt content of the next generation battery would be reduced to close to zero.
At the investor conference in January this year, Tesla announced CATL as its a new motive power battery supplier, who will supply lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery to its Model 3 at its Shanghai factory.
On March 29, BYD released a "blade battery", which is essentially a LFP battery. BYD used the cell-to-pack (CTP) technology, which could improve the efficiency of battery packing and energy density of battery. The volume utilisation rate of the "blade battery" has increased by more than 50% as compared to the traditional battery pack with modules, , and the travel range can reach 605 km.
Nickel cobalt manganese aluminium (NCMA) battery
General Motors announced its cooperation with LG Chem on EV Day and planned to mass-produce nickel-cobalt-manganese-aluminium (NCMA) batteries by 2021, which could reduce costs by over 30%. LG Chem has increased the content of alumina in NCMA batteries while the content of cobalt is less than 10%.
More companies are developing (NCMA) batteries. The technical route is to incorporate some aluminum elements into the nickel-cobalt-manganese ternary batteries to suppress 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%, and the cobalt content is further reduced before gradually achieving the goal of low cobalt or cobalt-free batteries, and the cost reduction after mass production can exceed 30 %.
CATL, BYD, Guoxuan Hi-Tech, GEM and Ronbay Technology are among the major Chinese companies engaging in NCMA battery materials. It is widely believed that the alternative to ensure that the nickel and cobalt content is at the same level or lower than that of NCA batteries is to use batteries with at least four elements to gradually achieve the goal of low cobalt or no cobalt batteries.
Conclusion: Motive power batteries represent about 40% of the total costs of electric cars. Cobalt, as part of the current motive power battery cathode materials, accounts for 30%-45% of its cost. Therefore, battery producers will try to reduce the cobalt content to lower costs when selecting cathode materials.
The following is a breakdown of cobalt metal consumption:
No substitutes for LCO have not been found for high-end mobile phones and tablets, so the decline of demand for cobalt metal is limited. At present, there are a great variety of cathode materials that can be used in motive power batteries, and the goal is to continuously reduce the content of cobalt metal.
In 2019, other industries (including hard alloys, high-temperature alloys, ceramic materials, catalysts, organic materials, magnetic materials, etc.) accounted for 30-40% of global demand for cobalt metal. The demand for cobalt metal in these traditional industries is still rigid and did not show a downward trend.
LFP continues to replace the low-end ternary materials. Other new types of materials have not yet been mass-produced. The specific future applications, safety performance, and travel range are not yet known.
Therefore, SMM believes that the reduction in cobalt use is only a trend and technical breakthroughs for achieving zero cobalt will take a long time. Companies in the cobalt industry are now more concerned about how to overcome difficulties brought by COVID-19 in the short term.
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