Supplies of lithium and cobalt are set to become “seriously critical” as demand for lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles and other applications rises, according to a new study.
Researchers at the Helmholtz Institute Ulm (HIU) of Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) say cobalt-free battery technologies, “including post-lithium technologies based on non-critical elements such as sodium”, plus magnesium, zinc, calcium and aluminium, could ease the “dependency”.
Prof Stefano Passerini, who supervised the study with HIU’s Dr Daniel Buchholz, said: “In general, the rapidly growing market penetration of lithium-ion batteries for electromobility applications, such as fully electric cars, will lead to an increasing demand for raw materials, especially with respect to lithium and cobalt.”
HIU system analyst Dr Marcel Weil said: “The future availability of cobalt for the mass production of lithium-ion batteries has to be classified as very critical, which is also evident from the price increase of cobalt— higher than 120% within one year from 2016-2017.”
Commenting on the team’s research in an article for Nature Reviews Materials, Dr Christoph Vaalma said: “Besides lithium as a charge carrier, cobalt is a fundamental component of the cathode in present lithium-ion batteries, determining the high energy and power density as well as the long lifetime. However, this element is suffering from scarcity and toxicity issues.”
KIT and the University of Ulm said they are now working with Germany’s Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research at Baden-Württemberg and the Justus-Liebig University Gießen on proposals “focusing on the development of sodium-ion, magnesium-ion and other batteries based on abundant materials”.