Scenario 2050: Material shortages for Li-ion batteries ahead

March 14, 2018 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Lithium and cobalt are essential components of current lithium-ion batteries. The increasing demand for lithium and cobalt as essential materials for current lithium ion batteries will leads to a growing shortage, according to an analysis by researchers at the Helmholtz Institute Ulm (HIU), founded by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). The situation could soon become critical, the scientists predict. The good news: There are alternatives.

Cobalt-free energy storage materials and post-lithium technologies based on non-critical elements such as sodium or magnesium, but also zinc, calcium and aluminum, open up ways to reduce resource pressure and avoid it in the long term, the researchers explain in their analysis, which they published in Nature Reviews Materials.

Besides lithium, cobalt is an essential component of the positive electrode in today's lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) and is decisive for energy and power density as well as durability. However, the low availability and high toxicity of cobalt is problematic. “In general, the rapidly growing market penetration of LIBs for mobile and stationary applications, especially in lithium and cobalt, will lead to an increasing demand for raw materials," says Professor Stefano Passerini, who conducted the study together with Dr. Daniel Buchholz at the Helmholtz Institute (Ulm, Germany).

By means of a scenario-based analysis covering the time frame to 2050, the researchers showed for various applications of batteries that the price increase and the supply shortages of cobalt are likely to occur because the demand from batteries could be twice as high as the cobalt reserves identified today. The situation with lithium is quite different: The reserves of this material identified today are sufficient, but production must be scaled up to ten times as high as it is needed to meet future demand, depending on the scenario.


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