The demand for xEV battery sees significant growth in 2017 due to the development of new energy vehicles, resulting in a 114% price surge for cobalt. In order to ease the cost pressure, battery makers are looking for ways to decrease the amount of cobalt used in xEV battery manufacturing. EnergyTrend, a division of TrendForce, forecasts that xEV battery with lower ratio of cobalt will be the mainstream product in 2018, easing the tight supply of cobalt.
According to Duff Lu, research manager of EnergyTrend, the price of cobalt has seen a new high in the past year due to the market’s overestimation of xEV vehicle demand, from US$35/kg in early 2017 to US$75/kg at the year end. The high prices have led to occasions that the pricing for cobalt transactions is not based on contract prices.
To cope with the increasing cost and to develop products with higher energy density (>200Wh/kg), battery cell makers are actively adopting ternary cathode materials like NMC and NCA. The more nickel used, the less cobalt needed in the chemical composition of battery. Current NMC ternary lithium-ion batteries from South Korean and Japanese makers typically employ a ratio of 60% nickel to 20% manganese, and 20% cobalt (6:2:2), but EnergyTrend forecasts the ratio to be 8:1:1 in 2018. As for Chinese battery makers, the ratio will change from 5:3:2 to 6:2:2. Lu points out that the lower percentage of cobalt will partially ease the tight supply of cobalt.
In addition, lithium-ion batteries used to be reused rather than recycled in most cases, but the battery recycling industry is expected to have a promising prospect as the material costs keep rising. The prices of used lithium-ion batteries have gone up from US$1,700~2,500 per ton to US$3,000 per ton.