According to the latest data from the Cobalt Institute, electric vehicles (EVs) have surpassed smartphones for the first time as the top source of demand for rare metal cobalt, Tesla North is reporting.
Cobalt is a byproduct of mining copper and nickel and is limited in its supply and availability. The majority of global cobalt originates from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), controlled by Chinese companies, and Glencore, based in London.
In 2021, the electric auto industry used 59,000 tonnes of cobalt, taking 34% of total demand, amid surging demand and interest in electric and hybrid vehicles. On the other hand, only 26,000 tonnes of cobalt were used in the manufacturing of smartphones, with desktop and laptop computers using up 16,000 tonnes.
The data also shows that overall demand for cobalt outstripped supply, as out of 160,000 tonnes mined, the need for cobalt was at 170,000 tonnes.
The DRC produced 118,000 tonnes of cobalt last year, whereas second-place supplier Australia came in at only 5,600 tonnes, showing a disparity in how the metal is sold.
The Cobalt Institute says nickel-cobalt batteries accounted for 75% of top EV models in the U.S. and Europe in 2021, compared to lower-cost lithium-iron phosphate (LFP) batteries used in China.
“Cobalt-containing batteries are a technology of choice for many car manufacturers in Europe, North America and China,” said Adam McCarthy, president of the Cobalt Institute, in a statement.
The EV industry is expected to take 50% of cobalt demand in 2026.