We might not have enough cobalt and nickel for our electric car future
It’s no secret that city air is harmful to your health. You could level that accusation against any number of European, American and Asian cities – including more than 40 in our own neck of the woods.
And the general consensus is that electric cars (or at least electrified cars) are the way to reduce both the noxious nitrogen oxides within our cities and the climate-changing CO2 without.
But there’s a particular fly in that ointment – it seems that the supply of all-important cobalt and nickel is in question. Make your jokes here about “not having the minerals” now.
As the name suggests, Lithium salts are the main ingredient in Lithium-ion batteries. But nickel and cobalt are necessary for the construction of the cathode in the cell, regardless of whether it’s a new-fangled solid-state battery or not.
Although nickel is generally plentiful, the primo, high-quality stuff is as rare as uncooked beef. In more bad news, the world’s largest-known supply of cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC. And the UK government’s travel advice for the DRC includes choice phrases like, “Continued presence of armed groups, military operations against them [and] intercommunal violence”, “A deterioration in the political, security and humanitarian situation” and, “The risk of kidnap or injury as a result of armed or criminal activity remains high.”
And trying to ensure the steady extraction and export of cobalt from somewhere like that seems… tricky.