The growing adoption of electric vehicles is driving rapidly increasing demand for rechargeable batteries and their input commodities - including lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite, manganese, copper and aluminum.
To reach the demand level, the lithium production is expected to double from 2018 to 2022, supported by capacity expansions and new mines entering production, mainly in Chile, Australia, Argentina and Canada. The main sources of lithium globally are the brines and hard-rock deposits. Production from brines is more economical, with largest deposits being in Americas and China. Hard-rock deposits however are somewhat more challenging to process, especially on the beneficiation side, while the efficiency of the operations is key in maintaining sustainable production costs. The hard-rock deposits can be found in Australia, Canada, Zimbabwe and Portugal.
Cobalt is a key component of cathodes of most types of rechargeable lithium-ion battery. The global demand is expected to grow by 10% CAGR to 2022. Most of cobalt is mined as a by-product of copper (67%) or nickel (31%). DRC is expected to remain the main cobalt producer, now accounting for almost 70% of global production, while the rest is divided among Cuba, Russia, Philippines, Australia and other. Giving high demand and tight availability, the industry has been preparing for an upswing in demand growth by building inventories and securing longer-term supply. Even with the recent developments towards declining the average cobalt content in automotive batteries, by 2025 Cobalt is expected to still be a key component.
Battery producers seek nickel-intensive cathode materials to improve battery energy intensity, strongly supporting Nickel outlook. Sustained undersupply is expected in the short-medium term. Meanwhile, a two-tiered structure between laterite and sulfate is evolving fast. Laterites production is expected to absorb the demand growth coming from the stainless-steel industry. However, there is a much tighter balance in the sulfates needed for the electric vehicles batteries.
Outotec can provide technology and equipment for the entire lithium, nickel and cobalt production chain from the mine to battery materials with project scope ranging from equipment packages to turnkey plant delivery.