All batteries are not created equal. The 53 kilowatt-hour pack on a 2008 Tesla Inc. Roadster contains an estimated 38 kilograms of cobalt, a key element that some analysts fear may be running out. The same-sized battery on a 2017 Tesla would have about one-eighth of that, or 4.8 kilograms.
That’s the best reason to be wary of predictions that cobalt is heading toward permanently higher prices north of $100,000 a metric ton. The complex chemistry on which rechargeable batteries depends offers myriad opportunities to economize on any material that gets too costly.
Cobalt is a crucial ingredient for manufacturing most lithium-ion cathodes — the “positive” ends of the cell, equivalent to the nipple atop a conventional AAA battery. Demand for such cathodes is set to soar as the world’s vehicle fleet shifts from petroleum to electrical drive-trains, and as utilities build farms of rechargeable batteries to stabilize renewables-intensive power grids. Continue Reading →