Cobalt Blue Holdings Ltd (ASX:COB) is examining how the Broken Hill Cobalt Project (BHCP) will fit into the global lithium-ion battery value chain with special emphasis on a possible Australian battery (pre-cursor) industry.
Forming a key part of this work is COB’s strategy to produce a higher value cobalt sulphate from the BHCP and this research is being part-funded by the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centre – Project or CRC-P Scheme.
Cobalt sampling program
A cobalt sample program will ensure product samples are delivered to key global precursor manufacturers.
Aside from developing commercial relationships, this program will ensure that BHCP development will be informed from the comprehensive technical feedback.
Low-value cobalt concentrates need significant further refining and have a value of around 20–30% cobalt payable.
Larger cobalt miners have therefore adopted an integrated mine/refinery approach with cobalt hydroxide or a mixed hydroxide product (MHP) of nickel and cobalt hydroxide being typical intermediate mine/refinery products.
Approximately 75% of all intermediate cobalt is sold in the form of the former but both products command a value of 50-90% cobalt payable.
Higher value cobalt sulphate
COB’s intended higher value cobalt sulphate has a value of 90-110% cobalt payable.
Looking forward, the company is committed to working with the Australian Government and key industry participants to understand whether the BHCP could fit into an Australian battery (pre-cursor) industry.
This would allow the company to receive significantly higher cobalt payables for product.
BHCP and the cobalt value chain.
Ultimately, this initiative will explore whether Australian industry can manufacture a competitive cathode.
This cooperation is being conducted under the Future Battery Industries Co-operative Research Centre (FBICRC) scheme.
Hydrogen v Lithium-ion
COB is also closely following developments in the hydrogen fuel cells vs Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery debate in regard to the most suitable batteries for passenger vehicles.
Several global automakers are backing Li-ion battery technology while Toyota continues to insist that Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs) will someday overtake battery-electric vehicles (BEVs).
Other automakers, including Hyundai and BMW, continue to research both powertrain options.
The Volkswagen view
Volkswagen, which COB says has the most promising electrification strategy of the large automakers, has released an article explaining in detail why it has abandoned hydrogen in favour of Li-ion batteries.
Firstly, hydrogen fuel cells possess a higher energy density than Li-ion batteries and thus will always have an inherent advantage for larger, heavier vehicles such as trucks and buses, as well as rail, air and sea transport.
For passenger vehicles, both technologies provide sufficient energy density, then which energy storage system has the best efficiency and is the most cost-effective?
With batteries, only eight per cent of the energy is lost during transport before the electricity is stored in the vehicle’s batteries.
When the electrical energy is converted to drive the electric motor, another 18 per cent is lost.
Depending on the model, the battery-powered car thus achieves an efficiency of between 70 to 80 per cent.
In the case of the hydrogen-powered car, the losses are much greater – 45 per cent of the energy is lost during the production of hydrogen through electrolysis.
Of the remaining 55 per cent, 30 per cent is lost when converting hydrogen into electricity within the vehicle.
Hydrogen fuel cells vs Li-ion batteries – efficiencies compared.
This means that the hydrogen-powered car only achieves an overall efficiency of between 25 to 35 per cent, depending on the model.
For the sake of completeness: the efficiency is even worse with alternative fuels. The overall efficiency is only 10 to 20 per cent.
Volkswagen’s key conclusion was that a hydrogen car consumes two to three times more electricity for the same distance than a battery car.
COB acknowledges contributions from Roskill Consultants and Volkswagen AG.