Samsung SDI searches for ways around cobalt

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Samsung SDI searches for ways around cobalt

Battery maker Samsung SDI is trying to cut cobalt use in its lithium-ion batteries as cobalt prices soar, the company said Monday.

Cobalt is a core material in the cathodes in lithium-ion batteries used to power electric cars and mobile phones.

According to Samsung SDI, international cobalt prices have been on the rise due to years of civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which accounts for 60 percent the world’s cobalt production. Prices also rose as the market for electric cars grew.

Cobalt prices skyrocketed by about 235 percent year on year from $34,600 per ton in January last year to $81,360 last month, Samsung SDI said.

The Korean battery maker has been trying to cope with the price hikes by signing long term supply agreements with cobalt suppliers and by amending contract terms with its customers so that increased cobalt prices can be reflected in battery prices.

As a longer term strategy, Samsung SDI is trying to reduce cobalt use and add more nickel to its batteries. While cobalt accounts for more than 20 percent of the materials in a cathode, the company hopes to lower that proportion to less than 10 percent by substituting cheaper nickel.

“We have set our focus of research and development on dramatically reducing the use of cobalt,” a top official from Samsung’s battery making arm said.

Samsung SDI is also in talks with a number of resources recycling companies at home and abroad to strategically recycle cobalt from thrown away smartphones. In the United States, nearly 15 percent of cobalt consumption is from scrap recycling, according to analyst Suba Arunkumar from the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.

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