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The global market for lithium batteries witnessed an average price increase of 15% to 25% for battery cells in the first half of 2017 compared with the second half of 2016, according to EnergyTrend, a division of TrendForce. This rise was mainly attributed to the cobalt price hitting a five-year high. Going into the second half of 2017, the price upswing in the cobalt market is expected to start leveling off. On the other hand, seasonal demand during the same period will drive market for batteries used in x-electric vehicles (or xEV, which include plug-in hybrid electric and battery electric vehicles). EnergyTrend projects that battery cell prices on average will increase by about 10% this third quarter compared with the previous quarter and will continue to be on a gradual uptrend through the fourth quarter.
Duff Lu, senior research manager of EnergyTrend, pointed out that the sizes of price increases differ by cell types. For cylindrical cells, their most common cathode material is nickel manganese cobalt (NMC). Around 15% of the cost of NMC is based on the cobalt content. Polymer cells, by contrast, mainly use lithium cobalt oxide (LCO) as their cathode material. Cobalt accounts for about 50% of the cost of LCO. “As cobalt price trend climbed to its highest point in five years, prices of polymer cells from Chinese suppliers also rose by more than 20% on the worldwide market this second quarter compared with the first quarter,” said Lu.
Lu expects demand for cobalt will be in high demand within various sectors from the advanced aerospace industry to the manufacturing of ordinary consumer products. However, the most noticeable demand growth for the metal will come from the xEV market. Demand for xEV batteries have already made big jumps, with the annual growth rate rising from 30% in 2015 to 35% in 2016. China, which is a major xEV market, has a projected xEV battery demand of 32 gigawatt-hours for this year, representing an estimated annual growth of 40% from the 2016’s figure of 23 gigawatt-hours. EnergyTrend anticipates steady demand growth for xEV batteries in China and other markets worldwide over the next few years, with the global CAGR from 2016 to 2020 reaching 15%.