Heading to zero cobalt batteries

October 29, 2020 //By Nick Flaherty
Heading to zero cobalt batteries
IDTechEx forecasts the share of "high-nickel" NMC batteries with over 60 percent nickel will increase significantly over the next decade, putting the electrification of vehicles at risk.

Nickel-manganese-cobalt oxide (NMC) and nickel-cobalt-aluminium oxide (NCA) layered-oxide materials are the dominant cathode of today, due to their applicability in electric vehicles and stationary storage. In current batteries, nickel can make up to 60-80% of the metal content.

To improve these class of materials, many have been attempting to incorporate more nickel into these cathodes, which increases their reversible capacity and can replace some of the expensive cobalt needed. Increasing capacity, and therefore energy density, is important for battery electric cars.

Recently, motivation is shifting toward lowering cobalt content in and of itself to minimize the dependence on the controversial material. IDTechEx calculate the amount of cobalt contained in Li-ion by 2030 to be nearly 300 kt. This will be a doubling the amount mined in 2019, according to USGS data. The 5-10 year timeframes needed to build new mines suggests that transport electrification and renewable integration may well be at risk of material shortages.

The move away from cobalt is desirable from a number of perspectives and numerous companies and news items report the advent of low-cobalt and cobalt-free batteries. However, the metal is generally considered to be critical for stabilizing NMC/NCA materials and reducing cobalt content below 10% without severely degrading cycle life and safety is no small feat.


There is the overarching trend to decrease the cobalt content of NMC and NCA and while they are unlikely to ever be zero-cobalt, efforts continue by many to minimize cobalt and increase nickel content. As noted above, the challenge comes with preserving cycle life and stability and numerous material choices and designs are being employed to improve these factors. NMC 811 (80% nickel) is reported to be in use in several Chinese EVs and the increase in nickel content is set to continue with patent literature showing that major players are using and exploring materials with

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