Cobalt, widely used in the layered oxide cathodes needed for long-range electric vehicles (EVs), has been identified as a key EV supply bottleneck. Many reports have proposed that nickel-rich, cobalt-free cathodes can—in addition to supply chain benefits—herald significant increases in energy density and reductions in EV cost if they can be stabilized. Here we present a contrasting viewpoint. We show that cobalt’s thermodynamic stability in layered structures is essential in enabling access to higher energy densities without sacrificing performance or safety, effectively lowering battery costs per kWh despite increasing raw material costs. We additionally show that the supply growth required to support intermediate cobalt content cathodes for 1.3 billion EVs by 2050 is within historical trends for major industrial metals—although supply concentration in challenging jurisdictions is likely to remain a problem. We predict that these techno-economic factors will drive the continued use of cobalt in nickel-based EV batteries.
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W.E.G. and G.M.B. thank W. C. Chueh for guidance and mentorship during this study. The authors also thank W. C. Chueh and G. Yushin for insightful discussions on cathode materials and fundamental operating mechanisms. W.E.G. thanks the Stanford StorageX initiative and the Precourt Institute for Energy for funding. The authors thank J. Goldman and M. Hitzman for reviewing and commenting on various manuscript drafts, as well as X.X. Xu, S. Bhattacharjee and K. Agarwal for their support in reviewing literature and assembling the figures.
K.Z.H. is a shareholder in and an employee of KoBold Metals, a battery metals exploration company that owns economic interests in several deposits believed to be rich in nickel as well as to contain minor contributions of cobalt and platinum group elements. KoBold is actively exploring for copper, lithium, cobalt and nickel. W.E.G. is also a shareholder in KoBold Metals, and he is separately employed by Sila Nanotechnologies, a battery materials design and manufacturing company. In his role at Sila, W.E.G. regularly considers performance/cost trade-offs of raw materials.
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Gent, W.E., Busse, G.M. & House, K.Z. The predicted persistence of cobalt in lithium-ion batteries. Nat Energy 7, 1132–1143 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-022-01129-z
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