The lithium ion rechargeable battery is the workhorse of modern day mobile electronics. It is in your smartphone, your laptop and even in that fuel-efficient hybrid car you are thinking of buying next.
Even though the main component of the battery is lithium, the battery still needs an expensive mineral, cobalt, to function efficiently.
Consequently, cobalt price and demand are bound to grow as our demand for Lithium batteries goes up. But exactly why do we need cobalt in our batteries?
The Role of Cobalt in Batteries
There is some bit of chemistry here. The primary role of cobalt is to change the oxidation state from +3 to +4 to compensate for the single electron that moves from the Lithium ion oxide in the cathode during the battery’s operation.
In short, cobalt oxide is an intercalation compound that will keep the battery working well even when 60 percent of the lithium is removed from the battery. This is very crucial when you are designing batteries you want to remain predictable even after decades of use.
The Superior Intercalation Compound
Even though we can use cheaper transition metals like nickel, copper, aluminum, manganese, zinc, or chromium, cobalt remains to be the expensive but reliable metal of them all.
For instance, nickel releases significant amounts of oxygen during operation making the battery a flame hazard. Aluminum, on the other hand, will get the job done but will slightly lower the battery’s capacity.
Why Seems Cobalt to Be Here to Stay
The price of cobalt doesn’t seem like it is going to deter its use in our safe portable batteries any soon. Experts believe that as of now, there must be small amounts of cobalt in the intercalation compound to improve the battery’s performance.
As of now, cobalt will remain in high demand until our scientists unearth another way to make efficient portable batteries without using this expensive metal. This is good news to futures investors who want to hold long-term positions on the metal but were worried if we still need it in bulk.