Fitch Solutions expects cobalt prices to continue rising in the next 2–3 years as battery demand climbs and the supply situation remains largely unchanged.
However, the price is unlikely to match its 2022 highs in the years ahead as demand growth slows and more supply comes online in 2023 and 2024.
Fitch observed the price of cobalt sulfate (20.5 per cent grade) to be hovering around $US8590 per tonne (t) while cobalt oxide (72 per cent grade) was trading at about $US31,600/t when it completed its report.
The financial services company said this was a steep decline from the peaks of April and May this year, where cobalt sulfate and cobalt oxide were trading above $US19,000/t and $US65,000/t, respectively.
Cobalt sulfate is used as a raw material in the production of cobalt and mixed metal (nickel-manganese-cobalt) cathode precursors for lithium-ion batteries, while cobalt oxide is used as a precursor to make cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries.
Fitch attributed the lower prices in recent months to battery makers “systematically” reducing the cobalt usage from more than 80 per cent of any given battery’s chemistry to 60 per cent over the past two years.
The fact electric vehicles (EV) are becoming more and more popular is a stimulus for cobalt.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) found that 120,000 EVs were sold worldwide in 2012. In 2021, more than 120,000 are sold in a week.
Nearly 10 per cent of global car sales were electric in 2021, four times the market share in 2019.
IEA found that two million EVs were sold in the first quarter of 2022, up 75 per cent from the first three months of 2021.
Fitch said that while a strong EV sales forecast bodes well for cobalt demand into the future, battery composition is important to note, considering EV batteries are made up of several different minerals.
As for supply, Fitch said cobalt production is growing year-on-year with a forecast 5.1 per cent supply increase in 2022. This is likely to rise further in 2023 and 2024, with new cobalt sulfate projects in the pipeline.