Government subsidies and promotion of electric cars could result in an abnormally large public conversion to them, which could put massive strains on the world supply of rare earths used in battery technology over the next 20 years.
Should this happen, perhaps petroleum as a fuel won’t look so bad in the end.
MetalMiner: Dr Irving Mintzer principal of MEG LLC, an energy consulting firm, described a “nightmare scenario” at the Critical & Strategic Metals Summit in Washington DC this week.
But metal demands look challenging; by Dr Mintzer’s estimations at current Cobalt (Co) and Neodymium (Nd) content levels in a typical Lithium ion battery (everyone agrees there is enough Lithium, it’s the minor metals needed for the cathodes and for the braking regeneration units that will be the challenge) it’s hard to see where the metal will come from. In current cars some 5kgs of Co and 2 kgs of Nd are needed in every car.
Even if improved technology reduced this to 0.5kgs of cobalt and 1 kg of Nd the world would need an additional 12,000 tons of cobalt and worse some 24,000 tons of Nd.
According to an informative presentation given by David Weight of the Cobalt Development Institute, the world currently produces about 55,000 tons of cobalt and is broadly in supply/demand balance. Some 50% of supply comes from the politically unstable Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the world’s richest source of cobalt.
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