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 batteries||NMC 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 EVs||Commonly 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.
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
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:
- Alternating Current (AC) chargers provide an alternating current, which periodically reverses direction.
- 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 Charger||Description||Max energy drawn per hour||Charge time
(60-kWH EV battery)
|Alternating Current (AC) Level 1||Charge via a 120-volt AC plug||1.4kW||2,400 minutes|
|Alternating Current (AC) Level 2||Charge via a 240-volt AC plug||7.2kW||500 minutes|
|Direct Current (DC)||Charge EVs rapidly, but are more expensive to install and use||50-350kW||Range 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.
Visualizing Copper’s Global Supply Chain
Copper is a global industry, from the mines of South America to refineries in Asia. However copper’s supply chain has several inherent risks.
Copper is all around us: in our homes, electronic devices, and transportation.
But before copper ends up in these products and technologies, the industry must mine, refine and transport this copper all over the globe.
Copper’s Supply Chain
This infographic comes to us from Trilogy Metals and it outlines copper’s supply chain from the mine to the refinery.
Copper Deposits Around the World
Copper is a mineral that comes from the Earth’s crust. However, natural history did not evenly distribute it around the world. There are certain geological conditions that need to happen to make an economic deposit of copper.
There are two primary types of copper deposits:
- Porphyry Copper Deposits
These copper ore deposits form from hydrothermal fluids coming from magma chambers below the copper deposit. These are currently the largest source of copper in the world.
- Sediment-hosted Copper Deposits
These are copper deposits that occur in sedimentary rocks that are bound by layers. They are formed by the cooling of copper-bearing hydrothermal fluids.
Copper-containing rock or ore only has a small percentage of copper. Most of the rock is uneconomic material, known as gangue. There are two main copper ore types in mining: copper oxide ores and copper sulfide ores.
Both ore types can be economic, however, the most common source of copper ore is the sulfide ore mineral chalcopyrite, which accounts for ~50% of copper production.
Sulfide copper ores are the most profitable ores because they have high copper content, and refiners easily separate copper from the gangue. Sulfide ores are not as abundant as the oxide ores.
Copper Trade Flows
While copper is a global business, there are clear leaders in the production and refinement of copper based on geology and demand. Chile is the major source for copper, exporting both mined and refined copper.
In a list of the 20 biggest copper mines, 11 reside in Chile and Peru accounting for 40% of mined copper. Meanwhile, China is a leading importer and exporter of refined copper, and it’s home to 9 of the 20 biggest copper smelters in the world.
However, this concentrated geography of supply creates risks for the the copper trade.
While Chile is one of the richest sources of copper in the world, the mining industry has exploited copper deposits to the point where the grade or quality of the copper ore is declining.
Codelco, the national copper miner of Chile and the world’s largest producer of copper, plans to spend $32B by 2027 to extend the life of its current mines and maintain its copper output.
In addition to declining grades, the geography of copper mining exposes the risk of supply disruption by natural forces.
The borders of Chile and Peru overlap the intersection of the Nazca and the South American Tectonic plates. Movement of these plates can produce powerful earthquakes.
According to one study, regions in Chile and Peru face a greater than 85% chance of a serious earthquake in the next 50 years, potentially disrupting copper mining operations. And according to Wood Mackenzie, a 15-day closure of copper mines in Chile and Peru could wipe out 1.5% of global annual production, or 300,000 tons of copper.
Falling grades and tectonic risk suggest that mining costs are likely to increase, making copper production more expensive and new discoveries more valuable.
Copper for the Future: New Discoveries
As economies grow and infrastructure needs increase, the demand for copper will grow. However, without new discoveries and sources of production, the world could face a shortage of the red metal.
According to data from S&P and the London Metals Exchange, the discovery of copper has not kept up with investment in copper exploration. If this trend persists, there will not be enough copper to replace current resources. On top of this, production from already producing copper mines face resource exhaustion and declining grades.
In order to maintain copper’s supply chain, the world needs new copper discoveries to ensure everyone has access to the materials and products that make modern life.
The Evolution of Higher Education: 5 Global Trends To Watch
Higher education is facing a new wave of change during the pandemic. What are the new priorities of 2,200 students and staff worldwide?
Higher education has gone through tremendous change during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the face of uncertainty, it’s become evident that institutions with prior investment in digital technologies are emerging more agile and resilient. For example, online communities have helped 30% of students feel more connected with other students during this time.
Below we look at key data from the Global Higher Education Research Snapshot from Salesforce.org—in partnership with market research firm Ipsos—which reflects the new attitudes and priorities of 2,200 students and higher education staff worldwide.
To understand the shifting landscape across higher education, the survey explores five key trends: connection, trust, wellbeing, flexibility, and career.
1. Communications Help Students Feel Connected
In a typically isolating time, 75% of students wanted to receive weekly (or even more frequent) pandemic-related updates.
Why? These consistent communications from institutions actually help students feel more close and connected than in previous years.
This valuable sense of belonging is increasingly happening through online communities and other digital channels, but institutions have significant room left to grow in this area.
2. Has The Pandemic Fractured Trust?
The pandemic has worsened existing trust gaps that exist between university leadership, students, and staff. Part of this may be due to a lack of resources provided during imposed COVID-19 restrictions.
From personal protective equipment such as masks/hand sanitizer to transparent COVID-19 response plans, students also expect a myriad of resources from their universities to help put them at ease.
3. Juggling Wellbeing Concerns
Months of lockdowns and persistent social distancing have understandably shaken up students’ university experiences.
This is further compounded by various well-being challenges, from financial anxieties to juggling familial responsibilities.
On the bright side, such demand creates an opportunity for institutions to provide more tailored well-being support through digital-first channels.
4. Students Are Drawn to Online Learning
As the pandemic seemingly creates new challenges by the day, many students are seeking more flexible options for when and how they learn.
The good news? There’s already evidence of this shift. Over half (57%) of staff say their institutions are investing in new modalities or revenue streams to attract new students, including more flexible learning options.
5. Uncertainties Remain Around Future Plans
Economic changes are causing over half (51%) of students to reconsider their education plans. In addition, of the staff that expect to see an increase in adult learners’ enrollment, a majority believe it will come from pandemic-influenced needs to reskill or upskill in this climate.
This uncertainty also affects students’ future plans—60% are concerned about finding employment after graduation. They want to be set up for career success in all areas, yet only a handful of them have the appropriate resources available.
How The Trends Intersect
These above trends aren’t disparate to the student and staff experience. Rather, they are intricately linked with one another, as the following question illustrates.
The pandemic has reshaped expectations of higher education—but it’s also created an opportunity for institutions to accelerate their digital transformation.
By providing more wellbeing resources, career support, and flexibility, universities can drive trust and support their students’ needs in the new normal.
Want more details?
Visit Salesforce.org’s Global Higher Education Research Snapshot to learn more.
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