International news within the industry of mining and metal, Jan, 18 2018
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Cobalt price elevated strongly during 2017

Pure (99.9 %) cobalt chips, electrolytically refined, as well as a high purity (99.8 % = 2N8) 1 cm3 cobalt cube for comparison. Foto: Wikipedia, Credit: Alchemist-hp
Pure (99.9 %) cobalt chips, electrolytically refined, as well as a high purity (99.8 % = 2N8) 1 cm3 cobalt cube for comparison. Foto: Wikipedia, Credit: Alchemist-hp
Published by
Markku Björkman - 07 Jan 2018

Cobalt prices went ballistic in 2017 with the metal quoted on the LME ending the year at $75,500, a 129% annual surge sparked by intensifying supply fears and an expected demand spike from battery markets. Measured from its record low hit in February 2016, the metal is more than $50,000 more expensive, Writes Mining.com

Given these lofty levels – and considering that the volatile commodity topped $100,000 a tonne a decade ago – battery makers and energy storage researchers have been working hard to find a substitute for cobalt, or at least reduce the required loading. Now that breakthrough may just have been made.

Backed by the US Department of Energy, researchers at Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering led by professor of materials science and engineering Christopher Wolverton, have developed a lithium battery which replaces cobalt with iron (iron ore was priced at $76 a tonne on Thursday).

Northwestern in partnership with the Argonne National Laboratory created a rechargeable lithium-iron-oxide battery that's not only much cheaper but can also cycle more lithium ions than its common lithium-cobalt-oxide counterpart, technology that has been on the market for 20 years:

“Because there is only one lithium ion per one cobalt, that limits of how much charge can be stored. What’s worse is that current batteries in your cell phone or laptop typically only use half of the lithium in the cathode.”

The [Northwestern] fully rechargeable battery starts with four lithium ions, instead of one. The current reaction can reversibly exploit one of these lithium ions, significantly increasing the capacity beyond today’s batteries. But the potential to cycle all four back and forth by using both iron and oxygen to drive the reaction is tantalizing.

“Four lithium ions for each metal — that would change everything,” Wolverton said. “That means that your phone could last eight times longer or your car could drive eight times farther. If battery-powered cars can compete with or exceed gasoline-powered cars in terms of range and cost, that will change the world.”

According to the institution's website, Wolverton has filed a provisional patent for the battery and he and his team "plan to explore other compounds where this strategy could work."

Source: Mining.com