Almost 14,500km from the dusty Congo savanna, miners have hit on an entirely new source of cobalt — the rare mineral at the heart of the electric-car boom — and not only can they take coffee breaks, when they take a break, they can grab a donut at Tim Hortons.
Scientists working for American Manganese Inc, located in the suburbs of Vancouver, have developed a way to produce enough of the bluish-gray metal to power all the electric cars on the road today without drilling into the ground: by recycling faulty batteries.
It is one of many technologies that entrepreneurs are patenting to prepare for a time when electric cars outnumber combustion engines, turning the entire automotive supply chain upside down in the process.
Instead of radiators, spark plugs and fuel injectors, the industry will need cheap sources of cobalt, copper and lithium.
“Mining batteries is much more profitable than mining the ground,” said Larry Reaugh, the president of American Manganese, which is patenting a method to draw out all of the metals in rechargeable batteries. “Rather than mining ore that’s 2 percent cobalt, you’re mining a battery that has 100 percent cobalt in it.”
Innovators like him have made so much progress that the likes of Tesla Motors Inc and Toyota Motor Corp could count on recycling for 10 percent of their battery material needs through 2025 if companies roll out large schemes, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
That will ease pressure on lithium and cobalt, whose prices have more than doubled over the past year.
Finding new sources of cobalt, in particular, could be a game-changer, because more than half of the relatively rare metal is sourced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Not only is it one of the world’s poorest countries, doing business there is tough after decades of violence and corruption. Some artisanal mines still use child labor.
American Manganese wants to recycle the one in 10 lithium-ion batteries — used in everything from home electronics to smartphones — that fail quality-control tests and end up in hazardous-waste dumps.
Doing this could yield as much as 4,000 tonnes of cobalt, Reaugh said.
If true, that is equal to the material used in all electric vehicles on the road this year.
Add in the 311,000 tonnes of electric car batteries that Bloomberg New Energy Finance anticipates will stop working by 2025, and the potential trove of metals grows exponentially.
Recycling could have a “stabilizing effect” on battery metal prices, said George Heppel, a consultant at London-based commodity analysis company CRU Ltd.
After surging from US$10 to US$30 a pound in less than two years, cobalt’s price gains are poised to slow to US$32 by 2021 and US$41 by 2022, according to forecasts of Macquarie Group Ltd, one of the largest banks in commodities.
Pressure on lithium, sourced mainly from Chilean brine lakes, will also abate as new supply starts getting produced in Argentina and Australia.
“Recycling will help to ease supply constraints that we see coming in the next couple of years,” Bloomberg New Energy Finance energy storage analyst James Frith said. “It will be a big deal mainly because you wouldn’t get all the wastage going into the ground.”
That does not mean miners like Glencore PLC, the world’s top producer, will need to scale back production. As the number of electric cars on roads from Shanghai to Paris surges from 2 million now to 118 million vehicles by 2030, demand for cobalt will soar to 156,000 tonnes.
By then, cars that emit less greenhouse gas than combustion engines will be everywhere. The UK and France plan to outlaw the sale of gasoline and diesel-powered cars by 2040. China, which is tackling one of the world’s worst air pollution problems, aims for electric cars to make up 10 percent of new sales in two years.
“We expect recycling will take off in 10 to 12 years, when the first wave of electrified vehicles will near end of life,” said Marc Grynberg, the chief executive officer of Brussels-based Umicore N.V., one of the few companies capable of recycling electric-car batteries at an industrial scale at a plant in Belgium.
Umicore has agreements with Tesla and Toyota to recycle their expired batteries in Europe. It uses smelting to recover minerals to make cathode materials — the part of the battery that houses the chemical reaction and produces the electron.
At American Manganese, Reaugh says he can extract metals at a cost of about US$0.30 a pound and resell them to battery manufacturers for up to US$20 a pound.
Reaugh, who spent 40 years working for miners of precious and base metals in the Americas and China, is patenting a technique that removes the battery casing with robotics and soaks the cell in a chemical solution for 30 minutes to bring out the pure metals.
He plans to raise US$6 million next year to build a pilot plant near Vancouver.
“This is an immediate market,” he said.
With assistance from Mark Burton
‘BIG LOSS’: This year might see the last generation of Huawei’s Kirin chips, as their production would stop next month because they are made using US technology Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies Co (華為) is running out of processor chips to make smartphones due to US sanctions and would be forced to stop production of its own most advanced chips, a company executive has said, in a sign of growing damage to Huawei’s business from US pressure. Huawei, one of the biggest producers of smartphones and network equipment, is at the center of US-Chinese tension over technology and security. Washington last year cut off Huawei’s access to US components and technology, and those penalties were tightened in May, when the White House barred vendors worldwide from using US
CORPORATE SCANDAL: Cathay Life has invested NT$13.3 billion in Bank Mayapada since 2015, but the latest loss of NT$8.8 billion has completely written off its investment Cathay Life Insurance Co (國泰人壽) yesterday said it would recognize an investment loss of NT$8.8 billion (US$298.1 million) in Indonesia’s Bank Mayapada Internasional Tbk PT due to concerns about the lender’s operations amid a corporate scandal. The company said it would revise its earnings result for June, from a net profit of NT$6.52 billion to a net loss of NT$520 million, its first monthly loss over the past 17 months. After booking an investment loss of NT$5.2 billion in Bank Mayapada earlier this year, Cathay Life has so far recognized total investment losses of NT$14 billion in the lender, executive vice president
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC, 台積電) yesterday reported that revenue last month expanded 25 percent annually, but fell 12.8 percent month-on-month to NT$105.96 billion (US$3.59 billion). In the first seven months of this year, the chipmaker’s revenue surged 33.6 percent to NT$727.26 billion, compared with NT$544.46 billion a year earlier. TSMC has said it aims to grow its revenue by more than 20 percent this year. The company has since May 15 stopped taking new orders from Huawei Technologies Co (華為), its second-biggest customer after Apple Inc, due to the US’ restrictions on exports containing US technologies. TSMC has no plans to
The US stock market has been on a tear, yet the country’s economy is in the dumps. So why do so many people believe — undoubtedly incorrectly — that the stock market has decoupled from reality? The economy many people experience, while bleak, is local, personal and, for the most part, either not publicly traded or plays only a small part in the stock market’s moves. To explain why these personal experiences have so little effect on equity markets, we must look more closely at the market role of the weakest industry sectors. The surprising conclusion: The most visible and economically vulnerable