LG Chem seek production of laptop battery with reduced cobalt by 2020

Park Sae-jin Reporter Posted : 2018-08-27 15:28 Updated : 2018-08-27 15:31
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[Courtesy of LG Chem]

SEOUL -- For laptops and other small gadgets, LG Chem, the world's top battery maker, will produce a new type of battery that contains less expensive material and is more cost-effective than conventional ones.

Cobalt is a rare-earth element which is widely used in batteries like lithium-ion batteries as cathodes. Because cobalt is rare and requires a complicated refining process, it is very costly and is vulnerable to sudden price fluctuations.

Last year, a total of about 50,000 tons of cobalt was used in battery production around the world, and about 60 percent of the total was used for making batteries for portable devices such as laptops, smartphones and other equipment. According to data from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a global mineral market research company, the global battery industry will need about 127,000 tons of cobalt for production in 2025.

LG Chem said in a statement on Monday that it will mass produce "High-Nickel" batteries, which have a low cobalt content level of less than five percent and an increased nickel content of up to 90 percent, by 2020. The current cobalt composition share in lithium-ion batteries differs by types of batteries, ranging from 10 percent to 55 percent. Nickel is also a key material used in making batteries but it is cheaper than cobalt.

"We will reduce the proportion of cobalt in batteries even more and apply the technology to many other IT devices," an LG Chem official was quoted as saying. The battery maker said its High-Nickel batteries take up less space, ideal for smart devices which require small-sized and power efficient batteries.

LG Chem introduced its first reduced cobalt battery for electric vehicles (EV) last year. "NCM 8211" is a pouch type battery named after three chemicals -- nickel, cobalt and manganese. According to the battery maker, the proportion of nickel in NCM 811 is high so that EV battery producers can save costs and extend the driving range.

As part of its aggressive plan to target various battery markets including global markets for EVs and smart devices, LG Chem invested $2 billion to build a second battery plant in China despite a policy of excluding electric vehicles equipped with South Korean batteries from a list of eco-friendly cars eligible for subsidies.

LG Chem has established a stable supply network of raw materials. The company signed a deal with Huayou Cobalt, a major cobalt supplier in China, in April to jointly produce key materials for lithium-ion batteries, followed by a five-year contract with Nemaska Lithium of Canada in May to receive 7,000 tons of battery grade lithium hydroxide per year.