Every once in a while, a previously underappreciated metal rises to prominence.
Several factors can cause this to happen: new technology, changing consumer preferences, supply constraints, or skyrocketing demand can all bring an unknown metal to the forefront of discussion.
Cobalt could be the latest metal that fits this description. It’s a crucial metal to the boom in lithium-ion battery demand, but it also has an increasingly precarious supply chain that could be very volatile moving forward.
Why Investors Should Look at Cobalt
Today’s infographic comes from eCobalt Solutions, a company focused on providing ethically produced and environmentally sound battery grade cobalt salts.
It presents the investment case for the relatively unknown metal.
With the green movement in full swing, there is compelling evidence that cobalt could be the next relatively unknown metal to rise to prominence.
Here are the top 10 reasons that investors should look at cobalt:
1. Cobalt is one of the few metals used for superalloys.
Nearly 20% of all cobalt is used for superalloys – a class of high-tech metals that originally emerged to suit the high operating temperatures of jet engines.
There are three main superalloy types:
- Nickel-based: the bulk of alloys produced
- Cobalt-based: higher melting point gives ability to absorb stress, and corrosion resistance
- Iron-based: the original superalloy, invented prior to the 1940s
Their use has extended into many other fields – and today, superalloys are used in all types of turbines, space vehicles, rocket engines, nuclear reactors, power plants, and chemical equipment.
2. The green economy runs on cobalt.
There are many types of lithium-ion batteries, but the vast majority of li-ions sold today use cobalt in some capacity.
In fact, by 2020 it is expected that 75% of lithium-ion batteries will contain cobalt. Why? It’s because cobalt is the most important metal for increasing the energy density of lithium-ion cathodes.
3. …And green uses such as EVs are driving the upwards trajectory of cobalt demand.
By 2020, almost 1/5 of cobalt demand will stem from electric vehicles.
Total refined cobalt demand:
|Year||Demand||% xEV batteries||% Electronics batteries|
“Cobalt’s demand growth profile remains one of the best among industrial metals peers. Its exposure to rechargeable batteries continues to play a crucial role.” – Macquarie
4. Getting cobalt is the hard part.
98% of cobalt is produced as a by-product of copper and nickel mines. The problem? If copper and nickel production isn’t growing, then more cobalt isn’t mined to meet demand.
5. Why not find more cobalt?
It’s easier said than done. The vast majority of the world’s cobalt lies in risky regions like the DRC.
|Country||% Cobalt Supply in 2014|
6. And so supply can tighten…
Chemical cobalt – the kind used in batteries, is expected to fall into a growing deficit over the next few years. By 2020, CRU expects that deficit to be at least 12,000 tonnes.
7. Meanwhile, the U.S. government definitely doesn’t have any strategic stockpiles.
According to the U.S Defense Logistics Agency, the government sold off cobalt all the way up until 2008. Now there is only 301 tonnes left in strategic stockpiles.
8. Cobalt was one of the best-performing metals in 2016.
9. Cobalt prices have been rising, but they are nowhere near all-time highs yet.
All-time highs for cobalt prices happened in 2008, after the DRC government placed restrictions on export of ores and concentrates. For a brief stint, cobalt prices even exceeded $50/lb.
The current price? Roughly $16/lb.
10. Many experts predict the cobalt market to be interesting to watch in 2017:
“Just how much cobalt is in stockpiles in China is the Million Dollar Question. Clarity here can materially affect the cobalt price.” Chris Berry, House Mountain Partners, LLC
“The refined cobalt market will fall into a 3,000 tonne deficit this year following seven years of overcapacity and oversupply. CRU anticipates prices to increase onward into 2017…” – Edward Spencer, CRU Group
“With this growth will come further disruption to the traditional market structures that have developed in cobalt over the last 30 years. In short, a new, more secure supply chain for the modern era will need to be created, a task that includes new mines, new refineries, and a more transparent supply chain.” – Andrew Miller, Benchmark Minerals
Map: The Countries With the Most Oil Reserves
See the countries with the most oil reserves on this map, which resizes each country based on how many barrels of oil are contained in its borders.
Map: The Countries With the Most Oil Reserves
There’s little doubt that renewable energy sources will play a strategic role in powering the global economy of the future.
But for now, crude oil is still the undisputed heavyweight champion of the energy world.
In 2018, we consumed more oil than any prior year in history – about 99.3 million barrels per day on a global basis. This number is projected to rise again in 2019 to 100.8 million barrels per day.
The Most Oil Reserves by Country
Given that oil will continue to be dominant in the energy mix for the short and medium term, which countries hold the most oil reserves?
Today’s map comes from HowMuch.net and it uses data from the CIA World Factbook to resize countries based on the amount of oil reserves they hold.
Here’s the data for the top 15 countries below:
|Rank||Country||Oil Reserves (Barrels)|
|#1||🇻🇪 Venezuela||300.9 billion|
|#2||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||266.5 billion|
|#3||🇨🇦 Canada||169.7 billion|
|#4||🇮🇷 Iran||158.4 billion|
|#5||🇮🇶 Iraq||142.5 billion|
|#6||🇰🇼 Kuwait||101.5 billion|
|#7||🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates||97.8 billion|
|#8||🇷🇺 Russia||80.0 billion|
|#9||🇱🇾 Libya||48.4 billion|
|#10||🇳🇬 Nigeria||37.1 billion|
|#11||🇺🇸 United States||36.5 billion|
|#12||🇰🇿 Kazakhstan||30.0 billion|
|#13||🇨🇳 China||25.6 billion|
|#14||🇶🇦 Qatar||25.2 billion|
|#15||🇧🇷 Brazil||12.7 billion|
Venezuela tops the list with 300.9 billion barrels of oil in reserve – but even this vast wealth in natural resources has not been enough to save the country from its recent economic and humanitarian crisis.
Saudi Arabia, a country known for its oil dominance, takes the #2 spot with 266.5 billion barrels of oil. Meanwhile, Canada and the U.S. are found at the #3 (169.7 billion bbls) and the #11 (36.5 billion bbls) spots respectively.
The Cost of Production
While having an endowment of billions of barrels of oil within your borders can be a strategic gift from mother nature, it’s worth mentioning that reserves are just one factor in assessing the potential value of this crucial resource.
In Saudi Arabia, for example, the production cost of oil is roughly $3.00 per barrel, which makes black gold strategic to produce at almost any possible price.
Other countries are not so lucky:
|Country||Production cost (bbl)||Total cost (bbl)*|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||$17.36||$44.33|
|🇺🇸 U.S. shale||$5.85||$23.35|
|🇺🇸 U.S. non-shale||$5.15||$20.99|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||$3.00||$8.98|
Even if a country is blessed with some of the most oil reserves in the world, it may not be able to produce and sell that oil to maximize the potential benefit.
Countries like Canada and Venezuela are hindered by geology – in these places, the majority of oil is extra heavy crude or bitumen (oil sands), and these types of oil are simply more difficult and costly to extract.
In other places, obstacles are are self-imposed. In some countries, like Brazil and the U.S., there are higher taxes on oil production, which raises the total cost per barrel.
Mapped: Every Power Plant in the United States
What sources of power are closest to you, and how has this mix changed over the last 10 years? See every power plant in the U.S. on this handy map.
This Map Shows Every Power Plant in the United States
Every year, the United States generates 4,000 million MWh of electricity from utility-scale sources.
While the majority comes from fossil fuels like natural gas (32.1%) and coal (29.9%), there are also many other minor sources that feed into the grid, ranging from biomass to geothermal.
Do you know where your electricity comes from?
The Big Picture View
Today’s series of maps come from Weber State University, and they use information from the EPA’s eGRID databases to show every utility-scale power plant in the country.
Use the white slider in the middle below to see how things have changed between 2007 and 2016:
The biggest difference between the two maps is the reduced role of coal, which is no longer the most dominant energy source in the country. You can also see many smaller-scale wind and solar dots appear throughout the appropriate regions.
Here’s a similar look at how the energy mix has changed in the United States over the last 70 years:
Up until the 21st century, power almost always came from fossil fuels, nuclear, or hydro sources. More recently, we can see different streams of renewables making a dent in the mix.
Maps by Source
Now let’s look at how these maps look by individual sources to see regional differences more clearly.
Here’s the map only showing fossil fuels.
The two most prominent sources are coal (black) and natural gas (orange), and they combine to make up about 60% of total annual net generation.
Now here’s just nuclear on the map:
Nuclear is pretty uncommon on the western half of the country, but on the Eastern Seaboard and in the Midwest, it is a major power source. All in all, it makes up about 20% of the annual net generation mix.
Finally, a look at renewable energy:
Hydro (dark blue), wind (light blue), solar (yellow), biomass (brown), and geothermal (green) all appear here.
Aside from a few massive hydro installations – such as the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State (19 million MWh per year) – most renewable installations are on a smaller scale.
Generally speaking, renewable sources are also more dependent on geography. You can’t put geothermal in an area where there is no thermal energy in the ground, or wind where there is mostly calm weather. For this reason, the dispersion of green sources around the country is also quite interesting to look at.
See all of the above, as well as Hawaii and Alaska, in an interactive map here.
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