During the 121 Mining Investment event in Cape Town last week, David Merriman, manager of Roskill’s Battery and Electric Vehicle division, discussed the importance of African sourced battery materials. Southern Africa holds resources of all the major battery materials used in lithium-ion technologies, including nickel, lithium and copper, though the concentration of cobalt resources in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo places the region in a unique position.
Whilst media reports on the DRC elections raised concerns over possible supply disruptions in the world’s biggest cobalt producing nation, Roskill’s recent visit to a number of cobalt and copper operations in the country revealed it is business as usual. Increased cobalt production at DRC operations and at artisanal sites, incentivised by higher cobalt prices in 2018, have also created stockpiles of material which will likely shield against any future mine supply shocks. Significant Chinese investment has, and will continue, to increase cobalt hydroxide capacity, largely destined for refined producers in China.
Efforts to reduce the cobalt content of cathode materials and reduce the demand pressure on the cobalt market are taking effect, with a shift to higher nickel cathodes in electric vehicle. Competition from non-cobalt containing cathode materials such as lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) is also expected to slow cobalt demand growth. Despite these mitigating factors, the overall increase in vehicle battery production volumes will require further investment in cobalt refining capacity beyond the mid-2020s.