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
Mapped: Fossil Fuel Production by Country
These four animated cartograms show the nations leading the world in fossil fuel production, in terms of oil, gas, coal, and total hydrocarbons.
Fossil fuels exist as a double-edged sword for most countries.
On one hand, they still make up a dominant piece of the current energy mix, and oil is still seen as a crucial resource for achieving geopolitical significance. It’s also no secret that fossil fuels are a driver for many economies around the world.
But with governments and corporations counting carbon emissions and mounting concerns about climate change, reliance on these same fuels will not last forever. As attitudes and policies evolve, they will continue to see a reduced role going forward.
Visualizing Fossil Fuels by Country
So, which countries are pumping out the most hydrocarbons?
Today’s cartograms come from 911Metallurgist, and the animated maps resize each country based on their share of global fossil fuel production.
Below, you’ll see four cartograms that cover oil, gas, coal, and total fossil fuel production.
Crude Oil Production
The United States leads this category, producing about 18% of the world’s total oil:
Although the U.S. is the number one producer globally, it should be noted that the country doesn’t have the same quantity of oil reserves as other leading nations.
Weirdly, Venezuela has the exact opposite problem. The country has the most oil reserves in the world, but currently only sits as its 12th biggest producer.
Natural Gas Production
In terms of gas, the U.S. leads again with a 20% share of global production. Russia is also a gas powerhouse, with a 17.3% share.
After the U.S. and Russia, it’s a fairly steep dropoff in terms of natural gas production. Countries like Iran, Canada, Qatar, and China are the next most significant players, but they each only produce 4-6% of the global total.
Coal use may be on the decline, but China still produces a whopping 45% of the world’s coal.
China’s current relationship with coal is an interesting one.
Every year, coal has become less important in China’s energy mix – in 2011 it represented 70% of energy consumption, and by 2018 it had fell to 59%.
Despite this meaningful progress, China’s economy has grown so fast, that coal use has essentially held steady in absolute terms. Meanwhile, the country’s production of coal has actually grown slightly over the same timeframe.
Total Fossil Fuel Production
Finally, here is the sum of all three above categories, converted to metric tonnes:
The United States produces 20% of all global fossil fuels, with Russia and Iran rounding out the top three. After that comes Canada, which produces just under 5% of all fossil fuels globally.
Animation: U.S. Electric Vehicle Sales (2010-19)
This stunning animation visualizes the last nine years of U.S. electric vehicle sales. We also look at who will lead the race in the coming years.
It’s challenging to get ahead, but it’s even harder to stay ahead.
For companies looking to create a sustainable competitive advantage in a fast-moving, capital intensive, and nascent sector like manufacturing electric vehicles, this is a simple reality that must be accounted for.
Every milestone achieved is met with the onset of new and more sophisticated competitors – and as the industry grows, the stakes grow higher and the market gets further de-risked. Then, the real 800-lb gorillas start to climb their way in, making competition even more fierce.
Visualizing U.S. EV Sales
Today’s animation uses data from InsideEVs to show almost nine years of U.S. sales in the electric vehicle market, sorted by model of car.
It paints a picture of a rapidly evolving market with many new competitors sweeping in to try and claim a stake. You can see the leads of early successes eroded away, the increasing value of scale, and consumer preferences, all rolled into one nifty animation.
The Tesla Roadster starts with a very early lead, but is soon replaced by the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, which are the most sold models in the U.S. from 2011-2016.
Closer to the end, the Tesla Model S rises fast to eventually surpass the Leaf by the end of 2017. Finally, the scale of the rollout of the Tesla Model 3 is put into real perspective, as it quickly jumps past all other models in the span of roughly one year.
The Gorilla Search
While Tesla’s rise has been well-documented, it’s also unclear how long the company can maintain an EV leadership position in the North American market.
As carmakers double-down on EVs as their future foundations, many well-capitalized competitors are entering the fray with serious and ambitious plans to make a dent in the market.
In the previous animation, you can already see there are multiple models from BMW, Volkswagen, Honda, Fiat, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, and Chevrolet that have accumulated over 10,000 sales – and as these manufacturers continue to pour capital in the sector, they are likely posturing to try and find how to create the next mass market EV.
Of these, Volkswagen seems to be the most bullish on a global transition to EVs, and the company is expecting to have 50 fully electric models by 2025 while investing $40 billion into new EV technologies (such as batteries) along the way.
The Chinese Bigfoot?
However, the 800-lb gorilla could come from the other side of the Pacific as well.
Source: The Driven
Chinese company BYD – which is backed by Warren Buffett – is currently the largest EV manufacturer in the world, selling 250,000 EVs in 2018.
The Chinese carmaker quietly manufacturers buses in the U.S. already, and it has also announced future plans to sell its cars in the U.S. as well.
How will such an animation of cumulative U.S. EV sales look in the future? In such a rapidly evolving space, it seems it could go any which way.
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