The cobalt market revisited

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College of Business


The cobalt market is a market that has frequent supply shortages and crises. This paper looks at the changes in the cobalt market from the period of the 1970s to 2018 to gain insights into how the cobalt market is responding and adjusting to periods of supply shortages. Particular concern has arisen due to the potential large increase in the need for cobalt in lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles. Is the supply of cobalt able to grow at the necessary rate to match the projected increase in the production of electric vehicles? The paper finds that some cobalt market adjustments have occurred over the time period in response to supply risk, but these adjustments have not significantly offset the cobalt market characteristics that largely drive its behavior: by-product supply, the large amount of low-cost material in the DR Congo, and the technical advantages of using cobalt in its applications over potential substitutes. The ramifications for post-2018 are probably more of the same behavior. The cobalt market will continue to make incremental adjustments over time as periodic short-run price spikes occur with the corresponding supply “crisis.” The move of the cobalt market to a dominant end use may make the market even more cyclical and prone to supply crises.

Publication Title

Mineral Economics