The growth of the EV market depends on the continued availability of key materials such as cobalt, an element used in battery cathodes. Scientists from the American Chemical Society (ACS) wanted to find out if planned cobalt expansions could keep pace with this rapid growth. Their research, published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, found that supplies of the metal are adequate in the short term, but shortages could develop unless refining and recycling are scaled up and/or made more efficient.
Roughly 60 percent of mined cobalt is sourced from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The element is often recovered as a byproduct from mining copper and nickel, meaning that demand and pricing for those other metals affects the availability of cobalt. To project cobalt supply and demand through 2030, the researchers analyzed numerous variables, many of which could be affected by political instability in the DRC, policy decisions favoring EVs, disruptions in China (which refines around half of the world’s cobalt supply), and fluctuations in copper and nickel prices. The researchers estimate that supply will reach 320-460 thousand metric tons by 2030, while demand will reach 235-430 thousand metric tons. The team recommends that the industry invest in additional efficient refining and recycling capacity, so it can continue to meet demand.