Lithium-Cobalt Batteries: Powering the Electric Vehicle Revolution - Visual Capitalist
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Lithium-Cobalt Batteries: Powering the Electric Vehicle Revolution

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The following content is sponsored by Fuse Cobalt.

Lithium-cobalt batteries in electric vehicles

Lithium-Cobalt Batteries: Powering the EV Revolution

Countries across the globe are working towards a greener future and electric vehicles (EVs) are a key piece of the puzzle.

In fact, the EV revolution is well underway, rising from 17,000 electric cars in 2010 to 7.2 million in 2019—a 423x increase in less than a decade. At the same time, we often take for granted the variety of materials that make modern technology work. Going electric requires the use of strategic minerals, especially cobalt.

Today’s infographic comes to us from Fuse Cobalt and looks into how the cobalt in lithium batteries makes the difference for powerful and reliable battery technology.

Edging Over the Competition: The Lithium-Cobalt Combination

There are five primary lithium battery combinations for EVs, each with pros and cons:

  • Lithium Nickel Cobalt Aluminum (NCA)
  • Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt (NMC)
  • Lithium Manganese Oxide (LMO)
  • Lithium Titanate (LTO)
  • Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP)

From the plethora of lithium-ion battery compositions, EV manufacturers prefer the lithium-cobalt combination. As a result, NCA and NMC batteries are the most prevalent in EVs.

NCA batteriesNMC batteries
Offer high specific energy and power
Allow EVs to travel farther
Offer a similar caliber of performance
Use less cobalt, making them less expensive
More prone to overheating
Use more cobalt, making them more expensive
Higher overall safety
Commonly found in Tesla EVsCommonly found in Nissan, Chevrolet, and BMW EVs

The low energy density and power of the other batteries make them impractical for long-range EVs—and it’s partially due to the lack of cobalt.

Why Lithium-Cobalt?

When it comes to powering EVs, lithium-cobalt batteries are unmatched. Specific properties of cobalt make them stand out from the rest:

  • High energy density
  • Thermal stability
  • High specific power
  • Low self-discharge rate
  • Low weight
  • Recyclability

Not only do lithium-cobalt batteries allow EVs to travel farther, but they also improve safety and sustainability.

Cobalt: The Stable Battery Element

Cobalt’s high energy density allows batteries to pack more energy in smaller spaces, making them lightweight and powerful at the same time. In addition, its ability to withstand high temperatures increases the safety and reliability of EVs.

Furthermore, cobalt increases the longevity of batteries and remains highly recyclable, promoting a more sustainable battery supply chain.

Despite its advantages, EV manufacturers are making efforts to reduce the cobalt content of their batteries for various reasons associated with its supply chain:

  • Cobalt is a by-product of nickel and copper mining, which makes it harder to obtain.
  • Cobalt is expensive, at US$33,000/tonne—more than twice the price of nickel.
  • The general public associates cobalt mining in the Congo with child labor, tough conditions, and corruption.

Although cobalt may be associated with unethical mining practices, it still remains essential to EV manufacturers—as demonstrated by Tesla’s agreement to buy 6,000 tonnes of cobalt annually from mining giant Glencore.

Combating Cobalt’s Ethical Concerns

EV manufacturers and miners have joined forces with organizations that are making efforts to alleviate the ethical issues associated with cobalt mining. These include:

  • Fair Cobalt Alliance
  • Responsible Minerals Initiative
  • Responsible Cobalt Initiative
  • Clean Cobalt Initiative

As these initiatives progress, we may see a future with ethically mined cobalt in EV batteries, including cobalt mined in more jurisdictions outside of the DRC.

For the time being, it’s interesting to see how lithium-cobalt batteries power up an EV.

Breaking Down a Lithium-Cobalt Battery

Lithium-Cobalt batteries have three key components:

  • The cathode is an electrode that carries a positive charge, and is made of lithium metal oxide combinations of cobalt, nickel, manganese, iron, and aluminum.
  • The anode is an electrode that carries a negative charge, usually made of graphite.
  • The electrolyte is a lithium salt in liquid or gel form, and allows the ions to flow from the cathode to the anode (and vice versa).

How it Works

When the battery is charged, lithium ions flow via the electrolyte from the cathode to the anode, where they are stored for usage. Simultaneously, electrons pass through an external circuit and are collected in the anode through a negative current collector.

When the battery is generating an electric current (i.e. discharging), the ions flow via the electrolyte from the anode to the cathode, and the electrons reverse direction along the external circuit, powering up the EV.

The composition of the cathode largely determines battery performance. For EV batteries, this is where the lithium-cobalt combination plays a crucial role.

The EV market could experience colossal growth over the next decade, but it faces several roadblocks. At present, EV charging infrastructure is expensive and not as convenient as the local gas station—and lithium-cobalt batteries could help overcome this obstacle.

Battery Storage: The Future of EV Charging Stations?

There are the two ways to charge an electric vehicle battery:

  1. Alternating Current (AC) chargers provide an alternating current, which periodically reverses direction.
  2. Direct Current (DC) fast chargers provide direct current that moves only in one direction.

But there’s a catch.

EV batteries can only store energy in the form of direct current. To charge an EV battery, the onboard charger must convert the alternating current from AC chargers into direct current, increasing charging times substantially.

Today, EV chargers are available in three different types:

Type of ChargerDescriptionMax energy drawn per hourCharge time
(60-kWH EV battery)
Alternating Current (AC) Level 1Charge via a 120-volt AC plug
1.4kW2,400 minutes
Alternating Current (AC) Level 2Charge via a 240-volt AC plug7.2kW500 minutes
Direct Current (DC)Charge EVs rapidly, but are more expensive to install and use50-350kWRange between 10-75 minutes

Meanwhile, several roadblocks still discourage EV buyers, from the lack of charging infrastructure to long charging times.

Stationary battery storage could be the solution.

Stationary Battery Storage: Solving the EV Charging Enigma

Charged batteries can provide EVs with direct current without drawing power from the grid during times of high demand. This can significantly reduce the demand charges of electricity, which account for a large portion of a charging station’s electricity bill.

The highest rate of electricity usage at a particular time determines the demand charges, separate from the cost of actual energy consumed. In other words, demand charges can be astronomical at times when multiple vehicles are charged via power from the grid.

Stationary battery storage systems could be charged from the grid at times of low demand, and used to provide direct current to vehicles during times of high demand.

As a result, this could dramatically reduce charging times as well as the cost of electricity.

Enabling Stationary Battery Storage

Developing stationary battery storage systems on a large scale is expensive. Lithium-cobalt batteries could mitigate these costs through their recyclability.

Unless damaged beyond repair, recycling companies can refurbish lithium-cobalt battery packs for a second life as stationary storage systems.

Re-using batteries promotes a circular economy and reduces waste, pollution, and costs. Not only would this improve charging infrastructure, but it would also create a more sustainable supply chain for EV batteries.

Lithium-Cobalt Batteries: Here to Stay

Despite efforts to reduce the cobalt contents in batteries, the lithium-cobalt combination remains the optimal technology for EV batteries.

Growth is imminent in the EV market, and lithium-cobalt batteries could take center stage in improving both vehicle performance, and charging infrastructure.

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Energy

Visualizing U.S. Crude Oil and Petroleum Product Imports in 2021

This visualization breaks down U.S. oil imports by country for 2021, showing the split by OPEC and non-OPEC nations.

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U.S. Petroleum Product and Crude Oil Imports in 2021: Visualized

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

Energy independence is top of mind for many nations as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted sanctions and bans against Russian coal and crude oil imports.

Despite being the world’s largest oil producer, in 2021 the U.S. still imported more than 3 billion barrels of crude oil and petroleum products, equal to 43% of the country’s consumption.

This visualization uses data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) to compare U.S. crude oil and refined product imports with domestic crude oil production, and breaks down which countries the U.S. imported its oil from in 2021.

U.S. Crude Oil Imports, by Country

The U.S. imports more than 8 million barrels of petroleum products a day from other nations, making it the world’s second-largest importer of crude oil behind China.

America’s northern neighbor, Canada, is the largest source of petroleum imports at 1.58 billion barrels in 2021. These made up more than 51% of U.S. petroleum imports, and when counting only crude oil imports, Canada’s share rises to 62%.

RankCountryU.S. Oil Imports (2021, in barrels)Share
#1🇨🇦 Canada1,584 million51.3%
#2🇲🇽 Mexico259 million8.4%
#3🇷🇺 Russia254 million7.9%
#4🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia156 million5.1%
#5🇨🇴 Colombia74 million2.4%
#6🇪🇨 Ecuador61 million2.0%
#7🇮🇶 Iraq57 million1.9%
#8🇧🇷 Brazil52 million1.7%
#9🇰🇷 South Korea48 million1.6%
#10🇳🇱 Netherlands46 million1.5%
#11🇳🇬 Nigeria45 million1.5%
Other countries459 million14.7%
Total3,091 million100.0%

The second-largest contributor to U.S. petroleum imports was another neighbor, Mexico, with 259 million barrels imported in 2021—making up a bit more than 8% of U.S. petroleum imports.

Russia was the third-largest exporter of crude oil and petroleum products to the U.S. in 2021, with their 254 million barrels accounting for almost 8% of total imports.

U.S. Crude Oil and Petroleum Imports from OPEC and OPEC+

Only about 11% of U.S. crude oil and petroleum product imports come from OPEC nations, with another 16.3% coming from OPEC+ members.

While imports from OPEC and OPEC+ members make up more than a quarter of America’s total petroleum imports, this share is fairly small when considering OPEC members currently control nearly 80% of the world’s oil reserves.

Which Countries are Part of OPEC and OPEC-Plus?

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is a group of 13 petroleum producing nations that formed in 1960 to provide steady prices and supply distribution of crude oil and petroleum products.

In 2016, OPEC-plus was formed with additional oil-exporting nations in order to better control global oil supply and markets in response to a deluge of U.S. shale supply hitting the markets at that time.

OPEC members:

  • 🇮🇷 Iran*
  • 🇮🇶 Iraq*
  • 🇰🇼 Kuwait*
  • 🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia*
  • 🇻🇪 Venezuela*
  • 🇩🇿 Algeria
  • 🇦🇴 Angola
  • 🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea
  • 🇬🇦 Gabon
  • 🇱🇾 Libya
  • 🇳🇬 Nigeria
  • 🇨🇩 Republic of the Congo
  • 🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates

* Founding members

OPEC+ members:

  • 🇷🇺 Russia
  • 🇲🇽 Mexico
  • 🇰🇿 Kazakhstan
  • 🇲🇾 Malaysia
  • 🇦🇿 Azerbaijan
  • 🇧🇭 Bahrain
  • 🇧🇳 Brunei
  • 🇴🇲 Oman
  • 🇸🇩 Sudan
  • 🇸🇸 South Sudan

Although OPEC and OPEC+ members supply a significant part of U.S. crude oil and petroleum imports, America has avoided overdependence on the group by instead building strong ties with neighboring exporters Canada and Mexico.

Crude Oil Imports Capitalize on U.S. Refineries

While the U.S. has been a net exporter of crude oil and petroleum products the past two years, exporting 3.15 billion barrels while importing 3.09 billion barrels in 2021, crude oil-only trade tells a different story.

In terms of just crude oil trade, the U.S. was a significant net importer, with 2.23 billion barrels of crude oil imports and only 1.08 billion barrels of crude oil exports. But with the U.S. being the world’s largest crude oil producer, why is this?

As noted earlier, neighboring Canada makes up larger shares of U.S. crude oil imports compared to crude oil and petroleum product imports. Similarly, Mexico reaches 10% of America’s crude oil imports when excluding petroleum products.

Maximizing imports from neighboring countries makes sense on multiple fronts for all parties due to lower transportation costs and risks, and it’s no surprise Canada and Mexico are providing large shares of just crude oil as well. With such a large collection of oil refineries across the border, it’s ultimately more cost-efficient for Canada and Mexico to tap into U.S. oil refining rather than refining domestically.

In turn, Mexico is the largest importer of U.S. produced gasoline and diesel fuel, and Canada is the third-largest importer of American-produced refined petroleum products.

Replacing Russian Crude Oil Imports

While Russia only makes up 8% of American petroleum product imports, their 254 million barrels will need to be replaced as both countries ceased trading soon after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In an effort to curb rising oil and gasoline prices, in March President Joe Biden announced the release of up to 180 million barrels from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserves. Other IEA nations are also releasing emergency oil reserves in an attempt to curb rising prices at the pump and volatility in the oil market.

While the U.S. and the rest of the world are still managing the short-term solutions to this oil supply gap, the long-term solution is complex and has various moving parts. From ramping up domestic oil production to replacing oil demand with other cleaner energy solutions, oil trade and imports will remain a vital part of America’s energy supply.

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Energy

Mapped: Solar and Wind Power by Country

Wind and solar make up 10% of the world’s electricity. Combined, they are the fourth-largest source of electricity after coal, gas, and hydro.

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Mapped: Solar and Wind Power by Country

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

Wind and solar generate over a tenth of the world’s electricity. Taken together, they are the fourth-largest source of electricity, behind coal, gas, and hydro.

This infographic based on data from Ember shows the rise of electricity from these two clean sources over the last decade.

Europe Leads in Wind and Solar

Wind and solar generated 10.3% of global electricity for the first time in 2021, rising from 9.3% in 2020, and doubling their share compared to 2015 when the Paris Climate Agreement was signed.

In fact, 50 countries (26%) generated over a tenth of their electricity from wind and solar in 2021, with seven countries hitting this landmark for the first time: China, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Argentina, Hungary, and El Salvador.

Denmark and Uruguay achieved 52% and 47% respectively, leading the way in technology for high renewable grid integration.

RankTop Countries Solar/Wind Power Share
#1🇩🇰 Denmark 51.9%
#2🇺🇾 Uruguay 46.7%
#3🇱🇺 Luxembourg 43.4%
#4🇱🇹 Lithuania 36.9%
#5🇪🇸 Spain 32.9%
#6🇮🇪 Ireland 32.9%
#7🇵🇹 Portugal 31.5%
#8🇩🇪 Germany 28.8%
#9🇬🇷 Greece 28.7%
#10🇬🇧 United Kingdom 25.2%

From a regional perspective, Europe leads with nine of the top 10 countries. On the flipside, the Middle East and Africa have the fewest countries reaching the 10% threshold.

Further Renewables Growth Needed to meet Global Climate Goals

The electricity sector was the highest greenhouse gas emitting sector in 2020.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the sector needs to hit net zero globally by 2040 to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees. And to hit that goal, wind and solar power need to grow at nearly a 20% clip each year to 2030.

Despite the record rise in renewables, solar and wind electricity generation growth currently doesn’t meet the required marks to reach the Paris Agreement’s goals.

In fact, when the world faced an unprecedented surge in electricity demand in 2021, only 29% of the global rise in electricity demand was met with solar and wind.

Transition Underway

Even as emissions from the electricity sector are at an all-time high, there are signs that the global electricity transition is underway.

Governments like the U.S., Germany, UK, and Canada are planning to increase their share of clean electricity within the next decade and a half. Investments are also coming from the private sector, with companies like Amazon and Apple extending their positions on renewable energy to become some of the biggest buyers overall.

More wind and solar are being added to grids than ever, with renewables expected to provide the majority of clean electricity needed to phase out fossil fuels.

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