The attractiveness of nickel to investors has increased at the prospect of the proportion of its use in lithium-ion rechargeable batteries being substantially increased from a 1:1:1 nickel-cobalt-manganese ratio initially used, to an 8:1:1 ratio. This re-engineering is a change driven by the very rapid rise in cobalt prices over the past two years. While nickel is good for providing energy density, cobalt is needed to stabilize the battery structure, explains William Adams, Metal Bulletin head of base metals & battery research.
Speculative investment in materials for the battery market has been strong, as investors wonder whether nickel could emulate the sharp price rise seen in cobalt. Some battery producers are looking to lock in their future purchases.
While there has been talk of an 8:1:1 nickel-cobalt-manganese ratio in batteries, it is more a target for 2020, notes Jim Lennon, managing director of Red Door Research. An intermediate step away from 1:1:1 used now is, for example, the use of 5:3:2 in China. Adams notes that various technologies are being used and developed between the two extremes of 1:1:1 and 8:1:1, including 5:3:2, 6:2:2 and others.
Lennon says that there is much bullishness in China about the use of nickel in batteries, with the possibility that its consumption in lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles might double this year, from about 35,000 tpy globally to 65-70,000 tpy. Total use of nickel in all batteries stood at about 105,000 tonnes last year, he notes.