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Battery metals

To reach the demand level, the lithium production is expected to double from 2018 to 2022, supported by capacity expansions and new mines entering production, mainly in Chile, Australia, Argentina and Canada. The main sources of lithium globally are the brines and hard-rock deposits. Production from brines is more economical, with largest deposits being in Americas and China. Hard-rock deposits however are somewhat more challenging to process, especially on the beneficiation side, while the efficiency of the operations is key in maintaining sustainable production costs. The hard-rock deposits can be found in Australia, Canada, Zimbabwe and Portugal.

Cobalt is a key component of cathodes of most types of rechargeable lithium-ion battery. The global demand is expected to grow by 10% CAGR to 2022. Most of cobalt is mined as a by-product of copper (67%) or nickel (31%). DRC is expected to remain the main cobalt producer, now accounting for almost 70% of global production, while the rest is divided among Cuba, Russia, Philippines, Australia and other. Giving high demand and tight availability, the industry has been preparing for an upswing in demand growth by building inventories and securing longer-term supply. Even with the recent developments towards declining the average cobalt content in automotive batteries, by 2025 Cobalt is expected to still be a key component.

Battery producers seek nickel-intensive cathode materials to improve battery energy intensity, strongly supporting Nickel outlook. Sustained undersupply is expected in the short-medium term. Meanwhile, a two-tiered structure between laterite and sulfate is evolving fast. Laterites production is expected to absorb the demand growth coming from the stainless-steel industry. However, there is a much tighter balance in the sulfates needed for the electric vehicles batteries.

Cobalt

Cobalt (Co) is a metal used in numerous diverse commercial, industrial, and military applications, many of which are strategic and critical.  On a global basis, the leading use of cobalt is in rechargeable battery electrodes.  Superalloys, which are used to make parts for gas turbine engines, are another major use for cobalt.  

Lithium

Although lithium markets vary by location, global end-use markets are estimated as follows: batteries, 74%; ceramics and glass, 14%. Lithium consumption for batteries has increased significantly in recent years because rechargeable lithium batteries are used extensively in the growing market for electric vehicles and portable electronic devices, and increasingly are used in electric tools, and grid storage applications. Lithium minerals were used directly as ore concentrates in ceramics and glass applications

Nickel, cobalt, and Lithium

Nickel, cobalt and lithium are key metals used in today’s active cathode materials and the chemistries deployed in high performance batteries. Highest demand growth is seen in the batteries used for portable devices, energy storage and especially in electric mobility, typically basing on NCM and NCA Lithium-ion chemistries.

Nickel and cobalt can be found from different type of ore bodies with most typical being lateritic and sulfidic ores. Quite often these mineralogies hold both nickel and cobalt, but cobalt is often also found together with copper. Both metals can also be found from several refined raw materials, like nickel matte or sulfide, from which the battery raw material refining can start.

The two main raw material sources of lithium are the brines from salars and the rock-forming lithium minerals, typically spodumene.

Nickel

Nickel (Ni) is a transition element that exhibits a mixture of ferrous and nonferrous metal properties.   It is both siderophile (i.e., associates with iron) and chalcophile (i.e., associates with sulfur).   The bulk of the nickel mined comes from two types of ore deposits:

  • laterites where the principal ore minerals are nickeliferous limonite [(Fe,Ni)O(OH)] and garnierite (a hydrous nickel silicate), or

  • magmatic sulfide deposits where the principal ore mineral is pentlandite [(Ni,Fe)9S8].

 

Nickel is primarily sold for first use as refined metal (cathode, powder, briquet, etc.) or ferronickel.   About 65% of the nickel consumed in the Western World is used to make austenitic stainless steel.  Another 12% goes into superalloys (e.g., Inconel 600) or nonferrous alloys (e.g., cupronickel).  The aerospace industry is a leading consumer of nickel-base superalloys.  Turbine blades, discs and other critical parts of jet engines are fabricated from superalloys.  The remaining 23% of consumption is divided between alloy steels, rechargeable batteries, catalysts and other chemicals, coinage, foundry products, and plating.   

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