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

What’s Made from a Barrel of Oil?

Oil is a building block that makes modern life possible. Here are the proportion of finished products that are created from a barrel of oil.

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What Products Are Made from a Barrel of Oil?

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.

From the gasoline in our cars to the plastic in countless everyday items, crude oil is an essential raw material that shows up everywhere in our lives.

With around 18 million barrels of crude oil consumed every day just in America, this commodity powers transport, utilities, and is a vital ingredient in many of the things we use on a daily basis.

This graphic visualizes how much crude oil is refined into various finished products, using a barrel of oil to represent the proportional breakdown.

Barrel of Oil to Functional Fuel and More

Crude oil is primarily refined into various types of fuels to power transport and vital utilities. More than 85% of crude oil is refined into fuels like gasoline, diesel, and hydrocarbon gas liquids (HGLs) like propane and butane.

Along with being fuels for transportation, heating, and cooking, HGLs are used as feedstock for the production of chemicals, plastics, and synthetic rubber, and as additives for motor gasoline production.

Refined Crude Oil ProductShare of Crude Oil Refined
Gasoline42.7%
Diesel27.4%
Jet fuel5.8%
Heavy fuel5.0%
Asphalt4.0%
Light fuel3.0%
Hydrocarbon gas liquids2.0%
Other10.1%

Source: Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

Crude oil not only powers our vehicles, but it also helps pave the roads we drive on. About 4% of refined crude oil becomes asphalt, which is used to make concrete and different kinds of sealing and insulation products.

Although transportation and utility fuels dominate a large proportion of refined products, essential everyday materials like wax and plastic are also dependent on crude oil. With about 10% of refined products used to make plastics, cosmetics, and textiles, a barrel of crude oil can produce a variety of unexpected everyday products.

Personal care products like cosmetics and shampoo are made using petroleum products, as are medical supplies like IV bags and pharmaceuticals. Modern life would look very different without crude oil.

The Process of Refining Crude Oil

You might have noticed that while a barrel of oil contains 42 gallons, it ends up producing 45 gallons of refined products. This is because the majority of refined products have a lower density than crude oil, resulting in an increase in volume that is called processing gain.

Along with this, there are other inputs aside from crude oil that are used in the refining process. While crude oil is the primary input, fuel ethanol, hydrocarbon gas liquids, and other blending liquids are also used.

U.S. Refiner and Blender InputsShare of Total
Crude oil85.4%
Fuel ethanol4.8%
Blending components3.5%
Hydrocarbon gas liquids3.0%
Other liquids3.3%

Source: EIA

The process of refining a 30,000-barrel batch of crude oil typically takes between 12-24 hours, with refineries operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Although the proportions of individual refined products can vary depending on market demand and other factors, the majority of crude oil will continue to become fuel for the world’s transport and utilities.

The Difficulty of Cutting Down on Crude Oil

From the burning of heavy fuels that tarnish icebergs found in Arctic waters to the mounds of plastic made with petrochemicals that end up in our rivers, each barrel of oil and its refined products impact our environment in many different ways.

But even as the world works to reduce its consumption of fossil fuels in order to reach climate goals, a world without crude oil seems unfathomable.

Skyrocketing sales of EVs still haven’t managed to curb petroleum consumption in places like Norway, California, and China, and the steady reopening of travel and the economy will only result in increased petroleum consumption.

Completely replacing the multi-faceted “black gold” that’s in a barrel of oil isn’t possible right now, but as electrification continues and we find alternatives to petrochemical materials, humanity might at least manage to reduce its dependence on burning fossil fuels.

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Mapped: Visualizing U.S. Oil Production by State

The U.S. is the largest oil producer in the world. Here we map the share of oil production in the country by all 50 states in 2020.

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Map of U.S. Oil Production by State

Mapped: Visualizing U.S. Oil Production by State

In 2018, the United States became the world’s top crude oil producer. It has strongly held this position ever since.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the country accounted for nearly 15% of the world’s total oil production in 2020, churning out close to 13 million barrels of crude oil per day—more than Russia or Saudi Arabia.

Although total U.S. oil production declined between 1985 and 2008, annual production increased nearly every year from 2009 through 2019, reaching the highest amount on record in 2019.

The Dominant Oil Producing States

Impressively, 71% of total U.S. oil production came from just five states. An additional 14.6% came from the Gulf of Mexico, which is a federal jurisdiction.

Here are the five states that produce the largest amount of crude oil:

RankStateOil Production
(billion barrels)
Share of Total Production
1Texas1.7843.0%
2North Dakota0.4310.4%
3New Mexico0.379.2%
4Oklahoma0.174.1%
5Colorado0.164.0%

Rounding the top 10 are states like Alaska, California, Wyoming, Louisiana, and Utah.

Texas is undoubtedly the largest oil-producing state in the United States. In 2020, Texas produced a total of 1.78 billion barrels of oil. Texas is home to the most productive U.S. oil basin, the Permian, routinely accounting for at least 50% of total onshore production. A distant second is North Dakota, which produced about 431.2 million barrels of oil in 2020.

Regional Distribution of U.S. Oil Production

A total of 32 of the 50 U.S. states produce oil. They are divided among five regional divisions for oil production in the U.S., known as the Petroleum Administration for Defense Districts (PADD).

These five regional divisions of the allocation of fuels were established in the U.S. during the Second World War and are still used today for data collection purposes.

Given that Texas is the largest U.S. oil-producing state, PADD 3 (Gulf Coast) is also the largest oil-producing PADD. PADD 3 also includes the federal offshore region in the Gulf of Mexico. There are around 400 operational oil and gas rigs in the country.

Impact of U.S. Oil Production on Employment

Rapid growth in oil production using advanced drilling methods has created high-paying jobs in states like North Dakota and Texas.

Thanks to the rapid development in the Bakken Shale formation, North Dakota boasts the nation’s lowest unemployment rate. The state has also grown personal income and state economic output at a fast rate, due to oil and gas industry growth.

Oil production from the Eagle Ford Shale has transformed a relatively poor region of South Texas into one of the nation’s most significant economic development zones. In fact, due largely to the oil and natural gas industry, the Texas Comptroller estimates that Texas has recovered 100% of the jobs lost during the Great Recession.

Looking to the Future

The U.S. slashed its oil production forecast through next year just as OPEC and its allies begin to roll back their production cuts in the coming months.

U.S. oil output will drop to 11.04 million barrels a day this year, down from a forecasted 11.15 million. This was a result of the deep freeze that shut down the oil industry in Texas. The EIA also lowered its output forecast for 2022 by 100,000 barrels a day.

Despite its forecast for a rise in supply from outside the cartel this year, OPEC said in its report that it is uncertain about the levels of investment expected to determine the non-OPEC supply outlook for the years to come.

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