Feb 7, 2023
The Biggest Source of Cobalt Outside Africa is Now Indonesia
(Bloomberg) -- Indonesia has become the world’s second-largest cobalt producer, bolstering its bid to be a big player in the electric-vehicle supply chain.
Production of the battery material in the Southeast Asian country surged past others including Russia and Australia to grab the No. 2 spot last year, according to US government data. The expansion will continue this decade, easing the world’s reliance on Democratic Republic of Congo for more than two thirds of supplies and staving off potential shortages, analysts say.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has spearheaded the country’s push to build battery and EV industries on the back of the country’s rich mineral resources. It already produces about half of the world’s nickel, and its share of global cobalt output will rise to almost 20% by 2030, from about 1% in 2021, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.
Indonesia’s expansion is “somewhat reshaping the global supply chain,” Harry Fisher and Greg Miller, analysts at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, said in an email. An array of projects have been “on schedule to date and are ramping up successfully” despite initial concerns around over-runs on budget and costs.
The cobalt expansion is largely thanks to billions of dollars of investment by Chinese firms on refineries that dish out a chemical cocktail containing cobalt as well as nickel. The biggest global nickel producer Tsingshan Holding Group Co., cobalt refining giant Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt and the top battery manufacturer known as CATL are among investors.
Cobalt output from the country will more than double again this year, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.
The expansion from Indonesia has also helped soften fears of tight supplies for cobalt, which is used in diverse applications from aerospace materials to magnets as well as batteries. Global benchmark cobalt prices have more than halved since May last year, and are down 13% so far this year.
While softer cobalt prices have provided costs relief to manufacturers and automakers, some are already trying to phase out cobalt from their batteries because of ethical concerns about DRC production, and after bouts of price volatility in recent years. The surge in Indonesian supply could help assuage both concerns.
The global cobalt market will be in surplus this year and prices will remain “bogged down” in the near term as supply expands, Susan Zou, analyst at Rystad Energy said by email.
“Every 3-4 months there is a new announcement about an upcoming project” in Indonesia, she said. “It’s a game changer.”
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