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Common Sense v. EV Enthusiasm 

Readers will be aware that I have in the past indicated my concern that EVs were being ‘over-sold’ based on present cobalt based technology. My concerns have been based on the expected availability of this element from known resources (estimates of which seem to vary wildly from time to time!), and what appeared to be its far less efficient, even unsafe, though abundant nickel substitute.

This in no way is aimed at denigrating the EV technology, and giant steps that have been made in bringing it to market, but since even our Council has ‘bought-in’, under some pressure, we need to very sure that we are on the right track, and not climbing aboard a four-wheeled chimera.

It is for that reason that I picked up on an article by one John I Petersen in a counter climate-change publication called Not A Lot Of People Know That. Don’t knock it because of that affiliation – best to keep an open mind when it comes to these matters.

And take care before denigrating Patersen - far from being a 'nutter,' he is a Texas Attorney (funny that!) who appears to have put a great deal into researching this situation, and has no 'skin in the game' as is so often the case with other writers on the subject.

As regards nickel – this is important:

"In an October 2017 Joule article, Professors Gerbrand Ceder of Berkeley and Elsa Olivetti of MIT summarized the critical investor takeaway as follows:

“While NMC-111 (Nickel) is already commercially well established and NMC-622 has seen recent market introduction, NMC-811 appears on the automotive roadmaps due to its superb energy content. It still suffers, however, from significant capacity fade and higher safety risks. We are skeptical that it will see widespread adoption in the EV industry within the time frame of our assessment (2025).”

"I’ve dealt with hundreds of academics and researchers over the course of my career and this is the only time I can recall an academic expressing skepticism that a desirable objective can be achieved within an eight-year timeframe.

More recently, Marc Grynberg, the CEO of Umicore (OTCPK:UMICF), bluntly explained why battery manufacturers can’t design cobalt out of their products."

“If you increase the nickel proportion, you reduce the stability of the battery and so it has an impact on cycle life, the ability to charge it fast,” he said.

“Cobalt is the element that makes up for the lack of stability of nickel. There isn’t a better element than nickel to increase energy density, and there isn’t a better element than cobalt to make the stuff stable. So (while) you hear about designing out cobalt, this is not going to happen in the next three decades. It simply doesn’t work.”

And as regards cobalt:

“Of the 104,600 tonnes of cobalt the world’s refiners produced last year, roughly 9,000 tonnes was used in EV batteries and the balance was used for high-value industrial applications and batteries for electronics and other portable devices. When the cobalt cliff arrives, the high-value industrial applications and batteries for electronics and other portable devices will be far less cost sensitive than the EV market. So from my perspective, the only supply EV manufacturers can count on is the surplus nobody else wants.

While two major projects in the DRC, Glencore’s Katanga mine and Eurasian Resources’ Roan Tailings Project, will ease the cobalt shortage over the next couple of years, their combined future production capacity of roughly 47,000 tpy represents about half of expected demand growth in the EV battery sector under the most optimistic chemistry scenario imaginable. In a more likely scenario where NMC-811 is not dominant, the combined capacity of the big projects will represent about a quarter of expected demand growth in the EV battery sector.

While an ever expanding variety of junior mining companies are emerging from the shadows and announcing new exploration projects, only three hobby scale projects are expected to produce cobalt before 2025 and their collective capacity of 6,700 tpy pales in comparison to the shortfall.”

I don’t wish to be characterised as 'anti-EV,’ but I would suggest a modicum of common sense tempering the enthusiasm in the market-place.



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Reader Comments (1)

This is a much more balanced and nuanced assessment of cobalt supply and of EVs

Tesla for example has hugely reduced the amount of cobalt in its batteries and other manufacturers are changing their battery chemistry to reduce or almost eliminate cobalt.

July 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDenis Tegg

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