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.
Green Investing: How to Align Your Portfolio With the Paris Agreement
MSCI’s Climate Paris Aligned Indexes are designed to reduce risk exposure and capture green investing opportunities using 4 main objectives.
Green Investing: The Paris Agreement and Your Portfolio
In Part 1 of the Paris Agreement series, we showed that the world is on track for 3.5 degrees Celsius global warming by 2100—far from the 1.5 degree goal. We also explained what could happen if the signing nations fall short, including annual economic losses of up to $400 billion in the United States.
How can you act on this information to implement a green investing strategy? This graphic from MSCI is part 2 of the series, and it explains how investors can align their investment portfolios with the Paris Agreement.
Alignment Through Indexing
When investors are building a portfolio, they typically choose to align their portfolio with benchmark indexes. For example, investors looking to build a global equity portfolio could align with the MSCI All Country World Index.
The same principle applies for climate-minded investors, who can benchmark against MSCI’s Climate Paris Aligned Indexes. These indexes are designed to reduce risk exposure and capture green investing opportunities using 4 main objectives.
1.5 Degree Alignment
The key element is determining if a company is aligned with 1.5 degree warming compared to pre-industrial levels. To accomplish this, data is collected on company climate targets, emissions data, and estimates of current and future green revenues. Then, the indexes include companies with a 10% year-on-year decarbonization rate to drive temperature alignment.
Environmentally-friendly companies may have promising potential. For instance, the global clean technology market is expected to grow from $285 billion in 2020 to $453 billion in 2027. The MSCI Climate Paris Aligned Indexes shift the weight of their constituents from “brown” companies that cause environmental damage to “green” companies providing sustainable solutions.
Some companies are poorly positioned for the transition to a green economy, such as oil & gas businesses in the energy sector. In fact, a third of the current value of big oil & gas companies could evaporate if 1.5 degree alignment is aggressively pursued. To help manage this risk, the indexes aim to underweight high carbon emitters and lower their fossil fuel exposure.
Climate change is causing more frequent and severe weather events such as flooding, droughts and storms. For example, direct damage from climate disasters has cost $1.3 trillion over the last decade. MSCI’s Climate Paris Aligned Indexes aim to reduce physical risks by at least 50% compared to traditional indexes by reducing exposure in high-risk regions.
Together, these four considerations support a net zero strategy, where all emissions produced are in balance with those taken out of the atmosphere.
Green Investing in Practice
Climate change is one of the top themes that investors would like to include in their portfolios. As investors work to build portfolios and measure performance, these sustainable indexes can serve as a critical reference point.
Available for both equity and fixed income portfolios, the MSCI Climate Paris Aligned Indexes are a transparent way to implement a green investing strategy.
Decarbonization 101: What Carbon Emissions Are Part Of Your Footprint?
What types of carbon emissions do companies need to be aware of to effectively decarbonize? Here are the 3 scopes of carbon emissions.
What Carbon Emissions Are Part Of Your Footprint?
With many countries and companies formalizing commitments to meeting the Paris Agreement carbon emissions reduction goals, the pressure to decarbonize is on.
A common commitment from organizations is a “net-zero” pledge to both reduce and balance carbon emissions with carbon offsets. Germany, France and the UK have already signed net-zero emissions laws targeting 2050, and the U.S. and Canada recently committed to synchronize efforts towards the same net-zero goal by 2050.
As organizations face mounting pressure from governments and consumers to decarbonize, they need to define the carbon emissions that make up their carbon footprints in order to measure and minimize them.
This infographic from the National Public Utility Council highlights the three scopes of carbon emissions that make up a company’s carbon footprint.
The 3 Scopes of Carbon Emissions To Know
The most commonly used breakdown of a company’s carbon emissions are the three scopes defined by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, a partnership between the World Resources Institute and Business Council for Sustainable Development.
The GHG Protocol separates carbon emissions into three buckets: emissions caused directly by the company, emissions caused by the company’s consumption of electricity, and emissions caused by activities in a company’s value chain.
Scope 1: Direct emissions
These emissions are direct GHG emissions that occur from sources owned or controlled by the company, and are generally the easiest to track and change. Scope 1 emissions include:
- Company vehicles
- Chemical production (not including biomass combustion)
Scope 2: Indirect electricity emissions
These emissions are indirect GHG emissions from the generation of purchased electricity consumed by the company, which requires tracking both your company’s energy consumption and the relevant electrical output type and emissions from the supplying utility. Scope 2 emissions include:
- Electricity use (e.g. lights, computers, machinery, heating, steam, cooling)
- Emissions occur at the facility where electricity is generated (fossil fuel combustion, etc.)
Scope 3: Value chain emissions
These emissions include all other indirect GHG emissions occurring as a consequence of a company’s activities both upstream and downstream. They aren’t controlled or owned by the company, and many reporting bodies consider them optional to track, but they are often the largest source of a company’s carbon footprint and can be impacted in many different ways. Scope 3 emissions include:
- Purchased goods and services
- Transportation and distribution
- Employee commute
- Business travel
- Use and waste of products
- Company waste disposal
The Carbon Emissions Not Measured
Most uses of the GHG Protocol by companies includes many of the most common and impactful greenhouse gases that were covered by the UN’s 1997 Kyoto Protocol. These include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, as well as other gases and carbon-based compounds.
But the standard doesn’t include other emissions that either act as minor greenhouse gases or are harmful to other aspects of life, such as general pollutants or ozone depletion.
These are emissions that companies aren’t required to track in the pressure to decarbonize, but are still impactful and helpful to reduce:
- Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCS): These are greenhouse gases used mainly in refrigeration systems and in fire suppression systems (alongside halons) that are regulated by the Montreal Protocol due to their contribution to ozone depletion.
- Nitrogen oxides (NOx): These gases include nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and are caused by the combustion of fuels and act as a source of air pollution, contributing to the formation of smog and acid rain.
- Halocarbons: These carbon-halogen compounds have been used historically as solvents, pesticides, refrigerants, adhesives, and plastics, and have been deemed a direct cause of global warming for their role in the depletion of the stratospheric ozone.
There are many different types of carbon emissions for companies (and governments) to consider, measure, and reduce on the path to decarbonization. But that means there are also many places to start.
National Public Utilities Council is the go-to resource for all things decarbonization in the utilities industry. Learn more.
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