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.
More Than Precious: Silver’s Role in the New Energy Era (Part 3 of 3)
Long known as a precious metal, silver in solar and EV technologies will redefine its role and importance to a greener economy.
Silver’s Role in the New Energy Era (Part 3 of 3)
Silver is one of the first metals that humans discovered and used. Its extensive use throughout history has linked its name to its monetary value. However, as we have advanced technologically, so have our uses for silver. In the future, silver will see a surge in demand from solar and electric vehicle (EV) technologies.
Part 3 of the Silver Series comes to us from Endeavour Silver, and it outlines silver’s role in the new energy era and how it is more than just a precious metal.
A Sterling Reputation: Silver’s History in Technologies
Silver along with gold, copper, lead and iron, was one of the first metals known to humankind. Archaeologists have uncovered silver coins and objects dating from before 4,000 BC in Greece and Turkey. Since then, governments and jewelers embraced its properties to mint currency and craft jewelry.
This historical association between silver and money is recorded across multiple languages. The word silver itself comes from the Anglo-Saxon language, seolfor, which itself comes from ancient Germanic silabar.
Silver’s chemical symbol, “Ag”, is an abbreviation of the Latin word for silver, argentum. The Latin word originates from argunas, a Sanskrit word which means shining. The French use argent as the word for money and silver. Romans bankers and silver traders carried the name argentarius.
While silver’s monetary meanings still stand today, there have been hints of its use beyond money throughout history. For centuries, many cultures used silver containers and wares to store wine, water, and food to prevent spoilage.
During bouts of bubonic plague in Europe, children of wealthy families sucked on silver spoons to preserve their health, which gave birth to the phrase “born with a silver spoon in your mouth.”
Medieval doctors invented silver nitrate used to treat ulcers and burns, a practice that continues to this day. In the 1900s, silver found further application in healthcare. Doctors used to administer eye drops containing silver to newborns in the United States. During World War I, combat medics, doctors, and nurses would apply silver sutures to cover deep wounds.
Silver’s shimmer also made an important material in photography up until the 1970s. Silver’s reflectivity of light made it popular in mirror and building windows.
Now, a new era is rediscovering silver’s properties for the next generation of technology, making the metal more than precious.
Silver in the New Energy Era: Solar and EVs
Silver’s shimmering qualities foreshadowed its use in renewable technologies. Among all metals, silver has the highest electrical conductivity, making it an ideal metal for use in solar cells and the electronic components of electric vehicles.
Silver in Solar Photovoltaics
Conductive layers of silver paste within the cells of a solar photovoltaic (PV) cell help to conduct the electricity within the cell. When light strikes a PV, the conductors absorb the energy and electrons are set free.
Silver’s conductivity carries and stores the free electrons efficiently, maximizing the energy output of a solar cell. According to one study from the University of Kent, a typical solar panel can contain as much as 20 grams of silver.
As the world adopts solar photovoltaics, silver could see dramatic demand coming from this form of renewable energy.
Silver in Electric Vehicles
Silver’s conductivity and corrosion resistance makes its use in electronics critical, and electric vehicles are no exception. Virtually every electrical connection in a vehicle uses silver.
Silver is a critical material in the automotive sector, which uses over 55 million ounces of the metal annually. Auto manufacturers apply silver to the electrical contacts in powered seats and windows and other automotive electronics to improve conductivity.
A Silver Intensive Future
A green future will require metals and will redefine the role for many of them. Silver is no exception. Long known as a precious metal, silver also has industrial applications metal for an eco-friendly future.
Visualizing All the Known Copper in the World
Are we running out of copper? This graphic from Trilogy Metals paints a clear picture of all the copper in the world, above and underground.
Visualizing All the Known Copper in the World
Copper has many important applications in the modern economy. From smartphones and cars, to homes and hospitals, we use the metal almost everywhere, especially with renewable energy.
Often, consumers take for granted the accessibility to modern technology without the thought of where the materials come from or their impact on the environment. The world and its resources are finite and confined by both geography and the technology used to extract resources.
As governments and economies struggle to achieve a sustainable balance between humanity’s material impact and the health of the planet, knowing the availability of resources will become a critical pivot for achieving and maintaining that balance.
Copper is one such resource—and today’s graphic from Trilogy Metals outlines all the copper ever mined and what known resources still exist on Earth.
Are we running out of copper?
Above Ground Copper Resources
The production of mined copper has increased dramatically over the last two decades, From 9.8 million metric tons in 1995 to 20 million metric tons in 2019, a 104% rise over 25 years.
A total of 700 million metric tons of copper have been mined throughout history. Based on the 2019 average price of $6,042/metric ton, that’s worth $4.2 trillion—more than the value of Apple and Amazon combined.
Chile has been the source of the majority of the world’s copper and the biggest copper mining nation. Together, Chile, Peru, and China account for 48% of current global copper production.
|Ranking||Country||Mine Production 2019 (Ktons)||Country||Reserves 2019 (Ktons)|
|Other Countries||3,800||Other Countries||220,000|
|World Total||20,000||World Total||870,000|
As we enter the era of renewable energy, electric vehicles, and see more global economic growth, the demand for copper will continue to rise. In fact, the Copper Alliance projects an increase of 50% in just the next 20 years.
Are We Running Out of Copper? Not So Soon
Although a large chunk of the Earth’s copper is already above ground, there’s still more to mine.
According to the USGS, identified copper resources amount to 2.1 billion metric tons, with a further 3.5 billion metric tons in undiscovered resources.
At current production rates, it would take about 105 years for us to use all of it and this does not even account for recycling or new discoveries. Copper is 100% recyclable, and nearly all of the 700 million metric tons of mined copper is still in circulation. With this in mind, it’s safe to say that we won’t be running out of copper anytime soon.
Despite copper’s apparent abundance, the red metal is expensive to actually get out of the ground. As a result, the supply of copper has often fallen short in meeting its rising demand. This, in addition to falling resource grades in Chile, the largest producer of copper, emphasizes the need for new discoveries and mines.
While there are known reserves of copper above the ground, the Earth remains largely unexplored because of the inability to explore for minerals in the depths of the oceans and other planets. As the readily available supply of copper becomes scarce, the incentive to mine currently uneconomic copper increases.
A Mineral Intense Future
Most consumers take the immediate availability of materials such as copper and other metals for granted, with little thought about whether there is enough.
But it’s important to remember that these materials are as finite as the dimensions of the Earth. In this material world, understanding what is and what is not available is critical for a sustainable future here on Earth.
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