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Lithium & Cobalt: skyrocketing prices and bottlenecks in the battery supply chain

Over the last two years, lithium and cobalt prices have skyrocketed, driven largely by the battery boom that the power sector is now seeing as energy storage is deployed globally and the electric vehicle market heats up. McKinsey forecasts a threefold increase in lithium demand from 214kt in 2017 to 669kt in 2025 and a 60 percent increase in cobalt from 136kt to 222kt by 2025 however, with uncertainty in the cobalt supply chain, and child labour amongst its practices, manufacturers such as Tesla supplier, Panasonic have announced a reduction in cobalt content and recent entrant to the top three global battery suppliers, CATL, uses no Cobalt in its manufacturing process. CATL won contracts from European automotive OEM, Daimler based on this. CATL and Panasonic aren’t alone in turning their backs on Cobalt; battery manufacturers AESC, BYD, CALB, Conamix, Ionic Materials, Lishen, Murata, Saft and Toshiba are among their ranks.

Wind and solar: opportunities as global deployment increases

More established and stable than the booming storage industry, wind and solar deployments are growing steadily around the world. Direct-drive wind turbines which contain more rare earth metals are gaining prominence as the simplicity of their design compared to geared designs makes them preferable for the growing offshore wind industry 2013 estimates show direct drive turbines making up 50% of installed wind capacity by 2015.

As for solar, crystalline silicon, which is the dominant solar PV design uses aluminium, iron, lead, nickel and silver in panels. Other solar technologies use copper, indium and zinc. Deployment of wind and solar has often beaten market predictions and this will drive demand in metals within. President Trump’s 30% tax on imported PV panels are shifting the PV supply chain as many companies announce new manufacturing bases outside of China. How many of these will get built, and where, is yet to be determined.

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