Cobalt ash, Lithium, Vanadium, and Graphite are critical raw materials for the production of lithium-ion batteries, which power everything from smartphones to electric cars. The global demand for these materials has surged in recent years due to the rapid growth of the electric vehicle market, resulting in significant price increases for battery manufacturers.
Cobalt ash is a byproduct of the production of cobalt metal, which is used in the cathodes of lithium-ion batteries. The price of cobalt ash has been on a rollercoaster ride in recent years, reaching an all-time high of $94,750 per tonne in April 2018 before plummeting to $21,000 per tonne in March 2020. The price has since rebounded to around $30,000 per tonne, but battery manufacturers are still feeling the pinch.
Lithium is a key component of the electrolyte in lithium-ion batteries, and its price has also seen significant fluctuations. The price of lithium carbonate, the most common form of lithium used in batteries, soared from around $6,000 per tonne in 2015 to over $20,000 per tonne in mid-2018. However, oversupply in the market caused prices to plummet to around $7,000 per tonne by the end of 2020. Prices have since rebounded slightly, but battery manufacturers are still struggling with the increased costs.
Vanadium is used as a cathode material in some types of lithium-ion batteries, as well as in the production of vanadium redox flow batteries. The price of vanadium pentoxide, the primary form of vanadium used in batteries, spiked from around $5 per pound in early 2016 to over $30 per pound in late 2018, before dropping to around $6 per pound in early 2020. Prices have since rebounded to around $10 per pound, but battery manufacturers are still facing increased costs.
Graphite is used as an anode material in lithium-ion batteries, and its price has also seen significant fluctuations. The price of flake graphite, the most common form of graphite used in batteries, soared from around $900 per tonne in 2015 to over $2,500 per tonne in 2018. Prices have since dropped to around $600 per tonne, but battery manufacturers are still grappling with the increased costs.
The rising prices of these critical raw materials have led to increased costs for battery manufacturers, many of whom are struggling to maintain profitability. Battery powder manufacturers are also feeling the squeeze, as they rely on these materials to produce the powders used in the electrodes of lithium-ion batteries.
Some battery manufacturers are exploring alternative materials to reduce costs, such as nickel-cobalt-manganese (NCM) or nickel-cobalt-aluminum (NCA) cathodes, which use less cobalt than traditional cobalt-based cathodes. Others are investing in recycling and recovery technologies to reclaim these materials from end-of-life batteries.
The global price trends of cobalt ash, lithium, vanadium, and graphite have been volatile in recent years, impacting battery manufacturers and powder manufacturers. While prices have rebounded slightly, the increased costs of these critical raw materials remain a challenge for the industry. However, investment in alternative materials and recycling technologies could help mitigate these challenges in the long term.