Cobalt, what is it?
Cobalt is a chemical element with symbol Co and atomic number 27. Like nickel, cobalt is found in the Earth's crust only in chemically combined form, save for small deposits found in alloys of natural meteoric iron. The free element, produced by reductive smelting, is a hard lustrous, silver-grey metal.
- A "technology enabling" substance in the forefront of technological developments and innovation, whether for energy storage systems and catalytic processes, (important for the global green agenda) or enabling greater efficiencies in the operation of gas turbines and chemical processes.
- A key component in lithium-ion batteries used in today's electric automobile industry, battery storage, as well as mobile communications technology.
- Alloyed with aluminium and nickel to make particularly powerful magnets.
- Used in jet turbines and gas turbine generators, where high-temperature strength is important.
- Sometimes used in electroplating because of its attractive appearance, hardness and resistance to corrosion.
- Cobalt salts have been used for centuries to produce brilliant blue colours in paint, porcelain, glass, pottery and enamels.
- Radioactive cobalt-60 is used to treat cancer and, in some countries, to irradiate food in order to preserve it.
Uses of cobalt
Cobalt is a highly versatile mineral with a wide variety of uses in emerging energy technologies. At the heart of the drive for alternative and renewable energy systems, cobalt is a key component of lithium ion batteries, integral to powering electric vehicles. It is also a component of hard wearing alloys in wind and wave generators and a catalyst used for “splitting” water in solar energy technologies.
Additionally, traditional uses include alloys for aircraft engines, electroplating, colouring glass blue and green, and as a key radioisotope used extensively in cancer treatment.
Use of lithium-ion battery technology to power transportation and communication is creating a global and permanent market for energy metal commodities (lithium, cobalt, and graphite). Cobalt prices are expected to rise, driven by rapidly growing global demand for renewable energy systems, as cobalt is a key component in lithium-ion batteries.
Tesla Motors' (NASDAQ: TSLA) $5-billion lithium-ion battery Gigafactory went into production in July 2016, spurring investors to predict how much demand for energy metals the facility would create. Recent estimates have stated that the Gigafactory could push cobalt demand from the battery sector up by as much as 17 percent from the 2013 level. Implications become even greater when Tesla’s mandate to source its material from North America is taken into account — the US Geological Survey pegs Canada’s 2013 cobalt production at 8,000 tonnes, while United States produces none.
Additionally, in anticipation of this huge market trend, other large battery manufacturers such as LG Chem (KRX:051910), FoxConn Technology (TPE:2354, BYD (HKEX:1211), and Boston Power are planning mega-production facilities.