Electric Cars, Smartphones Lead to Mineral Boom

U.S. & World

From electric cars to smartphones, the use of cobalt is very prevalent. Odds are you’re carrying some around in your pocket or handbag right now. Demand for the once obscure element has sparked something of a cobalt rush. 

“If you take a look at what the Chinese are doing; they’re talking about having 7 million electric vehicles on the roads by 2025,” said Chris Berry with Mountain House Partners.

In the global race for a low carbon future, governments and businesses around the globe are going all in on electric cars. It’s sparked a gold rush for the once-obscure element of cobalt.

In the last two years, cobalt prices have spiked 300 percent. That’s because experts say it has one specific property that is critical for electric cars.

“It’s really to prevent what’s called thermal runaway,” Berry said. “That’s just the technical term for the battery getting hotter and hotter and hotter and ultimately exploding.”

CNN asked Berry if you can even have an electric car without cobalt:

“You can,” Berry said. “But it affects energy density, it affects the cycle life of the car overall.”

He says electric cars need a lot of cobalt.

“If this is the typical Tesla Model S, it’s 85 kilowatt hours,” Berry said. “That’s roughly about 112 pounds of lithium and about 15 pounds of cobalt.” 

It’s likely many of us are carrying a few grams right now inside our smartphones. The cobalt’s buried deep in the battery’s chemistry of most modern cell phones.

“Probably about 3 grams, 3 to 4 grams,” Berry explained, regarding the amount of cobalt in a cell phone. “When you think about the number of iPhones or number of cellphones that are sold globally, it starts to add up.”

In a future which many believe is increasingly battery-powered, the cobalt rush is not over yet.

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