Prices of Lithium, Cobalt and other lithium battery materials

Two arguments
There are two arguments in the battery industry about the price dynamics. i.e., that battery prices are rising or falling. Both the arguments are true and false depending on the factors on which these statements have been said. The falling prices of battery are directly linked with the R&D and production quantity, BNEF predicts the prices of the battery pack falling from the current price of $176/kWh to $94/kWh (year 2024) and $62/kWh (year 2030). The price rise argument is directly linked with the input prices of the metals, more precisely linked with cobalt and lithium prices. The stock market cannot be predicted so easily and it depends on demand and supply basis which itself cannot be predicted in long term basis, while research for new cathode materials is always in momentum, so the future is always interesting with a little unpredictability.

Interesting parameters in deciding the future trajectory
  • Availability of different chemistries in the choice of cathode
  • Decreasing the content of costly metals (like cobalt in NMC batteries or replacing Li batteries with Na, Mg- ion batteries.
  • Breakthrough in new cathode materials.
  • Discovery of new mines.
  • Alternative to lithium batteries (From Na ion batteries, Mg ion batteries, Li air batteries , Hydrogen Fuel cell, etc)
The price of cobalt is mostly referred as the issue for battery prices. Cobalt is one of the important material in the cathode, due to its uncontrollable price an unprecedented research has been carried out to limit the use of this material to a very low level. Tesla has reduced its component by using more nickel in the cathode NCA which is being used in its cars (It should be noted that for powerwalls it is using NMC chemistry)

Rise and fall of cobalt prices

A hype of increase in EV's has been projected by many surveys in last few years. Most of the EV use  batteries with NCA chemistry and cobalt was of around 33% of the transitional metal (TM) used, even LCO was also a popular cathode with 100% of TM. Since most of the cobalt is mined from Congo and expecting a rise of prices lead to accumulation of reserves which in turn increased a drastic demand leading to constantly rise in prices. After the decreases in use of cobalt, the artificial demand has lowered and decline in prices. Still there is estimation of increase in cobalt price with estimation of EV and battery rise in 2030 to be 300GWh

Child labor for mining in Congo is a issue and many industries are trying to de-link these supply routes, thereby increasing demand for mining sources with better conditions.

Price of cobalt prices in US $ per Metric tonne in last ten years.


Nickel is also an important metal required in cathode and its cost also increasing but the availabilty is better than cobalt or lithium.


Price of Nickel prices in US $ per Metric tonne in last five years

Limited resources and confined to few countries makes the lithium precious.

It is the world’s lightest metal, and dubbed as “white petroleum” since it powers the modern electric vehicles and its color. Around 50% of Lithium is used in non battery activities like glass, ceramics, lubricants, and casting powders. Rise of EV and forecast is driving the demand to new highs.

How much weight of Lithium can a typical 18650 cell has?

High power cell of 3000mAh with LiCoO2 chemistry has 0.8 gm of Li in a 45 gm cell (1.8%). The electrolyte also has Li ions but in a minute amount. When the weight of lithium is calculated for a pack then it decreases even more and can be around 1%

How is the cost of Lithium in a 18650 cell? 

Reports say it is around 3%

A nice article in National Geographic - This metal is powering today's technology—at what price?


Lithium prices in terms of index points from May 2017