The crisis in Ukraine has profoundly altered the outlook for the world energy transition and created uncertainties on the path toward net zero. As a result of a sharp cut-off from Russian energy, the world is in the midst of an energy crisis, and economies that faced rapid economic recovery from the pandemic are now seeking to secure energy security in the short and long run. Before the sanctions, Russia supplied 14% and around 12% of the world's oil and natural gas needs, respectively. While the figure is not large in relative terms, a sharp absence of Russian material has created a profound supply shock, especially in Europe, exposing consumers to higher energy prices and energy blackouts, but also highlighting grid inefficiencies. Energy structures and policies have changed as a result, not just for the time being but for years to come. It is still uncertain how the energy crisis will develop and how long the prices of fossil fuels will remain elevated. Many markets anticipate that oil prices will remain around the $100/bl level until the year-end. The risk of further energy disruption is also high.
In particular, the area that is feeling this squeeze the most is the European Union, where 60% and 32% of its oil and gas needs came from Russia in 2021. With EU sanctions coming into nearly full effect at the beginning of December and with the newly introduced price cap proposal, it would be illegal for EU ships to carry Russian crude if the cargo is purchased higher than a predetermined level. That means that right now, Europe is awash with LNG that it does not immediately need. Indeed, some 2.6m tonnes of LNG is currently sitting off the coasts in floating storage, the most on record.
EU Gas Storage Levels, up to November 2022
EU gas storage continue to build up before the cut-off from Russian exports in December.
Natural gas prices in the region reached €336/MWh in August 2022, record highs, and spot prices for oil on both the Brent and WTI futures well above $100//bl in June. In time, this has translated into higher overall electricity prices for regions, and high gas and coal prices accounted for 90% of that increase. Taking Germany as an example, the nation's electricity price (inc. taxes) for household consumers reached €327/MWh, up from €319/MWh at the same time last year. Denmark consumers are facing the highest electricity prices across the bloc, at €455/MWh, where the increase in prices was also the greatest. Despite energy prices softening in recent months from the above-mentioned highs, the upcoming winter should help highlight the nation's preparedness and energy storage capacity. EU gas storage facilities were more than 90% full in early October 2022, a considerable achievement given that 80% of the Russian energy supply was cut since February. In combination with lower demand and continued strong inflows from non‐Russian sources, this reduces the risk of blackouts in the winter months. The bloc will still feel pressures to allocate energy resources and pockets of energy shortages are likely to appear.
Europe Electricity Whole Prices per Region
Europe electricity prices have calmed from September highs.
Overall, demand destruction seems crucial for Europe making it through the winter without a Russian energy supply. At the same time, officials are exploring ways to reduce demand and alleviate consumer pressure. Since September 2021, the IEA has tracked around €573bn in government interventions to shield consumers from the worst effects of the price spikes, with a large amount of additional support also under consideration in individual countries. Residential consumers account for approximately 40% of winter gas demand, and small changes to their behaviour could have a sizable impact on the region's gas balance. And with high energy prices, people are likely to cut down on usage, helping to reduce the demand. According to BNEF, demand in Northwest Europe, Italy and Austria is forecast to be around 17% below the 5-year average if the weather is in line with expectations. So even in a worst-case scenario, in which Russian supply is limited, and temperatures drop, the EU should still have enough gas to endure the winter.
Many economies turned to the spot market, where energy can be delivered for short-notice delivery, driving prices even higher. However, the higher spot prices more than makes up for whatever penalties they might pay for sticking with orderly long-term shipments that might not be committed. And that trend is likely to hold for the longer term. As a result, we expect electricity prices to remain elevated and peak in 2023. Without Russian natural gas flowing into Europe, the global markets will stay tight. Without the access to long-term supplies, nations may switch to more polluting fuels temporarily. Indeed, Germany has already brought back 8.8GW of coal and lignite capacity, and Italy has brought back 2.3GW of coal online, to stockpile ahead of the Russian sanctions, Europe is set to import an extra 50bcm of LNG in 2022 compared to 2021.
According to IEA, the energy crisis should help accelerate the transition to renewable energy. While the process will take a long time to materialise, many incentives accelerate that process. The crisis briefly pushes up the use of existing coal-powered plants but does not bring higher investment in new installations, so the impact on coal will likely be temporary. Even in the most affected regions, a higher share of renewables was correlated with lower electricity prices, and more efficient homes and electrified heat have produced an important buffer for some consumers. The crisis has put the spotlight on government action alongside short-term measures. Many governments are now taking longer-term steps, looking to diversify away from oil and gas, and introduce structural change to accelerate the commercial uptake of renewable energy.
Reliance of Russian Fuel per Region
Eastern part of the bloc continue to depend heavily on Russian energy exports.
Alongside the Fit-for-55 package that was launched in July 2021, the bloc introduced further assistance to help alleviate some pressures from consumers. One of the most recently introduced packages includes REPowerEU, which seeks to phase out Russian gas imports before 2027. The plan consists of two pillars: diminish the EU's dependence on Russian energy through diversification, in the form of LNG and boost decarbonisation through renewables and energy efficiency. To achieve the ambitious goal of reducing gas usage, the package increases the bloc's 2030 target for the share of renewables from 40% to 45%. This aligns with broader measures of lower heat pumps in commercial use, accelerated use of green hydrogen, and slow down on building of new coal and nuclear power plants. More importantly, we expect to see increased protectionist measures in relation to energy security to prevent the concentration of supply in other economies, especially those influenced by politics.
In line with energy measures, Europe continues to drive the uptake of electric vehicles. More recently, the bloc introduced a new law banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035. The deal also included a 55% cut in CO2 for new cars sold from 2030. Still, EVs have struggled to accelerate rapidly this year. The share of EV sales in Europe has reached 11% in H1 2022 vs 13% in H2 2021. The absence of regulatory incentives is doing far more than a supply chain crunch in stalling the uptake of EVs in Europe. EV purchase-lease subsidies of €9,000 from the government and €3,000 from the manufacturer are set to end by the end of 2022. In addition, subsidies for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles will be scrapped at the end of 2022. This coupled with softer economic projections coming into the next year should act as a headwind for EV production and sales on a year-on-year basis. The current crisis will drive the uptake of electric vehicles in the market in the longer term, as the bloc aims to phase out fossil fuel energy as well as vehicles powered by this energy source.
BEV and PHEV Government Spending per Region
Both China and Europe saw spending on EVs increase, while US stalled.
In comparison to the EU, the US is more isolated from the impacts of the cut-off from Russian energy, as the economy only imported 11% of its crude oil and refined petroleum in 2021. Moreover, even amid recession fears, the US is stepping up its exports as the impending EU ban on Russian crude will create a supply gap that others will need to fill. As a result, the US oil production is set to continue increasing in 2023 before cooling slightly in 2024 to 13.1m bl/d, which is still higher than the current 12.1m bl/d. From the LNG standpoint, Europe's share of US exports rose to 69% in H1 2022, up from 39% last year. The number of total active drilling rigs rose to 622 in recent weeks, the first monthly increase since July. While we have seen improved efficiency in drilling reduce the overall level over the last decade, the latest increase highlights the accelerated demand for energy ahead of winter.
While the economy is set to spend more on energy this winter than in recent years, the nation is in a much better shape to take the impact of energy market turbulence. Nearly half of all US households heat primarily with natural gas, and the price of this heating method is said to increase by 28% y/y, the sharpest increase in comparison to other energy sources. Moreover, the burden falls strongly on the Midwest, where the increases is as high as 64%. US natural gas storage equated to 3.5Tcf in October 2022, above market expectations and enough to power the economy through winter. However, this level is set to decline by 2.1Tcf to 1.4Tcf by the end of March next year, which is a slightly higher withdrawal from stocks on average. Higher heating oil prices and consumption, due to colder forecasted temperatures this winter, resulted in the market expectation that the average US home, that uses heating oil, will see expenditures increase by 45% y/y, according to EIA. According to the EIA, renewable sources are set to provide 22% of electricity generation this year, and 24% in 2023 as generation from natural gas falls from 38% to 36%, respectively.
Primary Heating by State 2021: Natural Gas, Electricity
Gas and electricity usage is split between south-east and north-west of the country.
Uncertainty surrounding energy prices will impact the markets next year. Policy action will play a key role in alleviating some of the pressures of the energy crisis and incentivising investment into renewable energy. The $374bn Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) introduced by President Biden earlier this year will have a sizeable impact on the US oil and gas complex. It provides greater fiscal support for wind, solar, and nuclear electricity generation. At the same time, the bill promotes long-duration hydrogen storage, and batteries should also help ensure energy stability even during peak hours. The act is one of the largest contributors to annual solar and wind capacity additions, growing by 2.5x over today's levels in the US, and EV sales are set to be 7x larger. According to BNEF, the law would trigger enough solar manufacturing to generate 364GW of electricity up to 2030.
Biden's IRA is a welcome step towards clean energy in the US but not a cure for climate action. The act is the biggest climate spending package ever passed in the US, and clean power technologies will receive $128bn through tax credit extensions and expansions. Solar and wind additions should be boosted by at least 20% by the end of the decade. Last year, the Biden administration stipulated a clean electricity target of 80% by 2030, meaning around 65-100GW of wind and sold capacity would need to be added annually to achieve this. Yet, the country is still set to fall short of this target, even with the recent legislative tailwind. The package makes it easier for clean energy rollout to be cheaper but less effective in addressing other hurdles, such as inter-regional transmission and bottlenecks.
2022 and 2023 Renewable Capacity Forecast Revisions, December 2021 vs May 2022
More capacity additions are forecast to come from China and the EU, while the US slows.
However, as more renewable capacity is brought forward, energy storage will become more integral to counter the intermittency problem. The US is the largest storage market but is due to be overtaken by China in 2025. However, thanks to the IRA, an additional 20GW of storage will be added this decade, resulting in a 24% growth from current estimates, helping to support America's lead ahead of China, which is set to grow to 30GW. New storage installations are forecast to reach a record 5.7GW in 2022, yielding a total capacity of 12GW. By 2030, the country will have 112GW of energy storage, enough to power 1.5m homes.
US NEV Sales and % Share of Total Sales
Both the absolute and relative figures suggest continued growth in electric vehicles in the US.
EV sales remained strong so far this year, despite lacklustre passenger vehicle performance in the US, growing to 85,920 units in October, making up 7.25% of total sales that month. Cumulatively, the total NEV sales reached 2.448m units so far in 2022. BNEF expects 3.6m EV on the road by the end of this year, putting it behind the China and Europe markets. California, the leading state in driving the uptake of electric vehicles, finalised regulations to ban gasoline-powered vehicle sales by 2025. Although the country does not a national policy to phase out internal combustion engine sales, the Biden administration set a target of all new vehicles sales to be electric by 2030. The market still remains predominantly driven by policy, and with the implementation of the infrastructure law and IRA, EV adoption is forecast to grow by 20% larger by 2030 than previously thought. This will benefit even those that are no longer eligible for previous EV tax credits.
In China, short‐term policy responses this year have focused on affordability and security of supply, with mitigating measures that can be implemented quickly, even when they are expensive or come at the cost of temporarily higher emissions. One response has been to allow for higher coal‐fired generation, extend the lifetime of some nuclear power plants and accelerate the flow of new renewable projects. While China's gas imports have dropped overall, driven in large by lower economic demand, the nation has increased purchases of Russian energy at a deep discount. Russian exports to China increased by 25% so far this year, up to a two-year high of 611,000mt in August. At the same time, Chinese importers have been contracting for longer-term gas supplies, and with this in mind, it has adequate supply to meet the forecasted demand well into the 2030s. With the nation's demand for gas slowing to 2% p.a. this decade in comparison to the growth of 12% p.a. in the 2010s, this reflects a policy shift for renewables over gas for power and heat.
Russian Gas Exports in WEI-2021 vs WEI-2022
Russian energy exports subside considerably in the new World Energy Outlook.
However, Three Gorges Dam was a prominent example of the impact that existing climate change could have on a traditionally reliable source of green power. In August, a series of heatwaves across the country reduced the water levels in the reservoir to a minimum, drastically reducing the plant's ability to produce electricity. As a result, the nation's hydro output fell by more than 30% to 99m MWh. Worsening drought conditions are set to persist because of climate change, and this will affect the dam's ability to generate reliable energy. Even after the drought in Sichuan over late summer, the effects are still prevalent. Some aluminium smelters in Yunnan are still forced to operate at reduced levels to conserve power and let the reservoir refill before the winter months when the supply could be tested once again. As a result, regulators have approved 14.6GW for energy storage that rely on pumped hydro in September and October to help secure the energy supply. However, China has had to rely more on polluting energy sources, such as coal and gas, even as fuel costs soared to records.
Additionally, the provincial government put forward incentives in place for construction of new gas-fired power plants. According to NDRC, at least 165GW of coal-powered plants are planned to be built by the end of 2023. New coal permits have also increased. In practice, that means that China is adding both clean power and coal to try and eliminate power shortages while at the same time advancing the country's long-term climate goals. China remained the largest renewable energy market, and its expansion continues to grow, with spending equalling $98bn in H1 2022 vs $12bn in the US.
China Share of Electric Vehicles by Mode, 2030
Two/three-wheelers dominate the electric vehicle mode expansion in China within this decade.
The crisis highlights prevailing problems for China's electricity reforms: inflexible markets and insufficient demand-side response. This means that drought can once again cause electricity shortages even with additions of new power plants, be it fossil fuels or renewable. In October, the government stated it would make capacity payments to gas plants that can adjust power output at peak times to improve the availability of new power. However, more coal power will not necessarily make the system more secure. A disconnect between coal and power prices meant that many coal power plants were losing money for every kWh produced, and so they shut down. Another issue is the current infrastructure in place. While China might be the leader in new renewable energy capacity installations, when it comes to usage, only a portion of that energy is used for the country's needs. Currently, many power plants are not efficiently connected to the overall grid. Cross-provincial electricity transfer agreements currently in place meant that a significant part of Sichuan's power, which could have been used to support production at times of shortage, was sent east, and the design did not allow the province to keep the power for itself.
But few economies are seeing such fast-paced growth as China, where EVs have gone from 1% of light commercial vehicle sales to 11% in a couple of years. China is the leader in the commercial vehicle market, and it dictates the trend for the world. Likewise, NEVs maintained their momentum so far in 2022, including pure-electric and plug-in hybrids; sales rose by 83% y/y to 611,000 units in September. We expect this level to remain robust into the year-end, and sales are estimated to reach 5.5m in 2022. The central and local governments have also stepped forward to help the auto industry recover from lockdown restrictions, more notably by cutting the purchase taxes on some low-emission passenger cars by 50%, while municipal governments have introduced subsidies and incentives to attract buyers. As a result, despite lockdown conditions still in place, overall auto production and supply chain have largely recovered. However, EV subsidies are set to be phased out by the end of this year, which supported the higher pace of production for majority of this year. Following 2022, fiscal support is being phased out and policy will be driven by sales and production targets as fiscal support is phased out.
Global Electricity Demand by Source
Renewables take up a greater portion of the global demand in 2023.
The crisis provides an opportunity for a short-term boost of oil and coal as an alternative to high-priced gas. But lasting gains will come in the form of sustainable low-emission sources, mainly renewables and nuclear energy. According to IEA, coal demand is expected to peak over the next couple of years as natural gas reaches a plateau by the decade's end. There is still upside to oil demand, but a peak will be met in the mid-2030s.
With the increases in interest rates worldwide, clean energy project financing could be disadvantaged next year. This, coupled with the diminishing marginal propensity to spend in the face of a looming recession, will require a greater contribution from governments across the world in the form of subsidies or other fiscal support. Nonetheless, clean technologies remain the more cost-efficient option (solar 33% cheaper than gas in the US) for new power generation, further incentivising investment into renewable energy over high-priced fossil fuels. Current trends are, however, prompting governments to pay closer attention to the resilience and diversity of clean energy supply chains.
Annual Clean Energy Investment
Annual energy investment continues to grow, and the EV’s share is set to expand rapidly.
High energy costs will have a much deeper impact on emerging economies, which have been excluded from the natural gas market by other nations borrowing other countries' energy supplies. As a result, many will have to suffer consequences, ranging from factory shutdowns to scheduled blackouts in some regions. Renewables, like wind and solar, could provide some relief; however, their low share of overall electricity generation and poor integration into the national grid means that renewable energy is not available on-demand and, as a result, cannot act like a sustainable intermittent source this winter. This issue has brought attention to energy poverty and how many people have access to readily available energy. The number of people without electricity is set to rise in 2022 for the first time in decades. Due to the combination of the pandemic and the current energy crisis, the IEA estimates that 75m people that recently gained access to electricity are unlikely to be able to pay for it and that 100m people that have gained access to cooking with clean energy may once again prioritise fossil fuels on cost grounds.
Nickel LME Price vs 30 Day Volatility vs 90 Day Volatility
Volatility has declined but remained at high levels.
Nickel prices have struggled due to macroeconomic conditions, poor liquidity, and reduced market sentiment. However, volatility is still high, with 30- and 90-day volatility at 46.63% and 50.37%, respectively. Trading in recent sessions has been volatile, with nickel nearly reaching its daily limit of a 15% move, prices have pushed back above $30,000/t, and fundamentally we see these prices as overbought. Since the nickel crisis, liquidity has declined drastically, and significant moves on minimal volume are typical. The lack of trading has been compounded by the lower involvement from Chinese traders, as the overnight session was shut for an extended period, and credit and financing in China have been very limited. This has reduced liquidity, but we expect financing and credit in China to improve in 2023. The latest spike higher was triggered by a reduced of output in New Caledonia, and heightening supply worries. The move highlights the sensitivity of the market. Production in Indonesia is improving, and while the class 2 nickel is not tenderable on the LME, this can be converted into class 1, helping to ease supply pressures in the long run.
Thin trading and higher volatility make hedging tricky, especially with higher margin requirements. The tailings dam saw a salt-laden liquid leak, and this has caused cutbacks at Goro; the leak came after heavy rains in the region and highlights the ESG risks and climate risk associated with mining and metal production. The pullback in output will tighten the market as we enter the highest demand period for EVs, with December traditionally seeing strong sales in China. However, this could be due to consumers making the most of subsidies before the deadline.
LME Nickel Open Interest vs 3-month Price vs Volumes
Liquidity in the LME has been poor, making hedging tricky and an increasing number of traders moving to OTC.
The new capacity highlights the investment from China in the battery supply chain and nickel sulphate specialisation, as their NPI market share has been declining due to Indonesia's dominance. We expect this trend to continue in 2023 as battery demand and credit in China improve. Nickel sulphate demand will rise next year as EV sales remain strong; despite the recession in Europe, the UK, and the US in 2023, bucking the global trend. Nickel briquettes are no longer the desired material feed due to their lack of price competitiveness; nickel MHP and matte, while cheaper, the latter is environmentally damaging. Despite this, there are reports that SHFE will reveal that briquettes can be delivered to the exchange.
In recent months, Chinese nickel sulphate production has been more robust, up 37.6% Y/Y in October, at 40,800 ni content and 186,000 tonnes of physical content, down 1.7% M/M. Output is expected to increase in the coming months as new capacity comes online and existing capacity is resumed; this is expected to trigger a rise in production to 43,500 tonnes. According to SMM, high-grade nickel matte accounted for 29% of the total output, MHP 45%, and nickel briquette and nickel powder 7%.
China Nickel Sulphate Prices vs Ni S 225 0.05% Premium/Discount
The premium has narrowed in recent months, however nickel sulphate prices continue to rise.
Nickel sulphate prices have increased recently but remain off the highs we saw in March and April. While transactions were limited, scarcity of material triggered a rally with prices for battery-grade nickel sulphate around CNY39,500-40,500/t, and according to SMM, the price coefficient of MHP was raised further to 78% against the battery-grade nickel sulphate price. Sulphate 21.8% Jinchuan stands at CNY47,000/t, China Ni S 22% Co 0.4% EXW has gained ground back towards CNY41,250/t with the 22% Co 0.05% EXW equivalent CNY44,750/t. The premium stands just below CNY4,000/t, which I relatively narrow considering the spread reached CNY9,000/t in May. Sulphate demand will stay strong in China in 2023 as sales continue to buck the trend. The European market has downside risk due to the lower economic growth, and the cost-of-living crisis will limit sales. While EVs sales have bucked the auto industry this year, we expect sales to suffer more in 2023. Contra to this, the US economy is in comparatively good shape, and e-mobility momentum in the US is improving after the Inflation Reduction Act and investment into gigafactories. The US came third in the BNEF, despite strong battery demand and BNEF cited as rapidly accelerating passenger vehicle sales. However, the US and Europe will still rely on China for nickel sulphate and other raw materials as they have yet to localise the supply chain.
Nickel Demand from EVs, Batteries, Energy Storage and Lithium Demand from EVs
Nickel demand will continue to rise significantly, however if cathode chemistries fall we expect downside to these forecasts.
New capacity for the nickel industry is being built at an alarmingly fast rate in Indonesia, and most of this capital comes from China. The premium of nickel prices over C90 has been subdued recently, with prices below C90 in 2016. Higher prices have improved margins for nickel producers, but capital costs are high, a trend that is likely to continue unless current reserves can achieve higher yields. Higher-cost brownfield sites will be targeted to increase supply, and the deficit in class 1 nickel will keep the spread between class 1 and class 2 prices wide; however, if this differential converges, class 1 expansions would be limited. New projects coming online are focused in Australia, Brazil, and Canada, total new capacity of 220,000 tonnes out to 2026. We could see higher discount rates applied to some projects due to climate risk in Australia and increased ESG regulations and community involvement in South America. We still expect new mines in these jurisdictions to go ahead, but the higher cost of capital, costs and more robust regulations raise the risk to the project; therefore, a higher discount rate is required. New projects may target higher quality ore grades at the start of the project, and this could mean diminished revenue as time passes. However, according to Jowitt et al., 2020, short-term changes in the reserve to production correlate with price changes; however, in the medium to long term, there is no impact. Indicating that any reserve or resource depletion changes are not attributed to lower prices. Changes to reserve data likely suggest an amendment to the amount of economically extractable material. Reserves are still growing as technological advancement allows the extraction of deeper and more remote deposits.
China’s EV sales have peaked in December for the last two years, and with sales for BEVs and PHEVs up 66% Y/Y and 47% Y/Y, we still anticipate a solid end to 2022 from a sales perspective. The market share for both has increased, with BEVs at 9.2% YTD and PHEVs at 3.8% YTD. While EU and US battery chemistries favour high nickel densities, China currently adopts a medium nickel density, and this could benefit the nickel market next year if we see lower demand from Europe as it would reduce the consumption of high nickel batteries. However, the growth in consumption into 2030 is exponential, and we expect investment in supply chains and facilities to continue to grow, as softer consumption will be a short-term trend due to the high cost of living. Indeed, the movement to decarbonise the globe and increase energy security in Europe may offset the softer demand. The volatility in the nickel market has made hedging very hard; large volumes have moved OTC. This is set to continue in the near term but improving Chinese trading volumes in 2023 would help liquidity. This has triggered joint ventures between miners, refineries, and battery manufacturers, for example, BHP and Tesla, Toyota, and Panasonic, another being Panasonic sourcing cathode material from Redwood for their Kansas plant. We expect these deals across the supply chain to continue as resource security becomes paramount.
Battery Storage Capacity Outlined by Three IEA Scenarios
All scenarios outlined in the IEA show a significant increase in battery storage; stated policy scenario is a long way short.
China Co Oxide vs China Cobalt Sulphate 20.5% vs Cobalt LME
Prices have declined sharply, outlining the stronger supply from DRC and worries around demand.
Cobalt cathodes are entrenched in the market, despite supply risks from DRC. The risks to the supply chain is high due to the geographical concentration of the market, with Benchmark Mineral Intelligence estimating that the DRC produced 71% of cobalt in 2021. EV sales have recovered well in China, which has boosted demand, but the softness in economic data has triggered a balanced market and caused prices to weaken. The recent agreement between Trafigura and the Eastern and South African Trade and Development Bank (TDB) to develop copper and cobalt mines and enable the completion of the Mutoshi mine, which has capacity of 16,000 tonnes of cobalt hydroxide and 48,000 tonnes of copper cathodes per annum, due to come online in Q4 2023. There is downside to demand in 2023 as consumption in Europe may suffer due to an ending of subsidies, which could reduce cobalt demand. Supply outside DRC centres around Australia, Canada, Cuba, and Indonesia. Investment in mines has been focused on Canada and Australia, and we expect mine supply to trend higher in the coming years. The IEA forecast that 17 cobalt developments are needed by 2030.
USGS Global Cobalt Reserves
DRC has the largest share of reserves in the globe, at 3,500,000 tons, with global reserves at 7,600,000 tons.
The USGS indicates that the reserves are there, and as Henckens et al. 2016 and later in their 2018 paper suggest that the extraction costs of material determines the price, and there is no correlation between geological scarcity and its price trend. Combined with Jowitt et al.'s 2020 analysis, which indicates that there is no correlation between the production ratio and price changes. The combination suggests that the extraction cost is more important that the production ratio, and short-term price changes have little impact production. Accordingly, the Central Bank of Congo's cobalt mining output increased to 10,573 tons (units/person) as of March 2022, the most up-to-date data. We anticipate this data to show increased mining output in 2022, with the cobalt institute suggesting mined supply in the DRC rising 26% Y/Y to 140,000 tonnes. China imported 260,128 tonnes of cobalt intermediates through to the end of October, up by 32,627 tonnes, up from 227,501 tonnes a year earlier, according to Fastmarkets. Supply chain restraints still threaten availability, and China's dominance of the value chain, coupled with its zero COVID policy, could lengthen the lead time.
Cobalt Conc 6-8% CIF vs China Co Powder 20-30% DRC CIF
The change in market sentiment is clear with prices losing their 2021 gains in a matter on months after April.
Higher output in DRC coupled with macroeconomic slowdown caused LME prices to decline, with the 3-month contract at $51,955/t, down from $82,000/t in May, and cash prices at $50,000/t, down from $81,688/t. The price decline will benefit the cost of battery cells if cobalt prices remain low, but cobalt now represents a small percentage of the battery. With the preference now towards high nickel batteries, the market will be much more sensitive to nickel and lithium prices. LFP batteries have increased in market share in recent years, as covered in our last report, and the recent volatility in nickel prices will accentuate this trend; according to UBS, if the nickel price is above or below $20/kg, this favours NMC cathodes but above $20/kg would favour LFPs. Battery cell prices had increased, according to BNEF, who indicated a rise of 149% from October 2021 to September 2022, with the pack now costing $153/kWh in March when prices were at their peak. Even so, around 40% of passenger vehicles EVs contained LFPs, up from 16% in 2020. As a result, this has presented some downside to cobalt demand forecasts, with some estimates down 45% on previous years' predictions. The trend towards LFP has softened cobalt demand, and some autos have reduced production or dropped NMC batteries altogether. While we have suggested that high nickel and low cobalt cathodes will be the dominant battery chemistry, the social risks of cobalt production have reduced stakeholders' appetite for cobalt. If the current trading environment and high volatility in the nickel market continues, we expect reduced appetite NMC in some regions, further pushing automakers towards LFP cells, as LFPs contain no nickel or cobalt.
China Cobalt Sulphate vs Grade 1 Cobalt 99.8% vs Cobalt Electrolytic China
Grade 1 cobalt prices have held up better in comparison to sulphate prices.
While the market will not be overly sensitive to these price moves in the coming weeks and months, but battery technologies and energy densities will change as investment continues and new efficiencies and densities are discovered. The weaker chemical prices have caused margins to decline, favouring metal production, and we expect metal output to rebound. The margins have indicated sales have been at a significant discount, as metal demand from the aerospace sector has increased in 2022. According to their company reports, in the first nine months of 2022, they reached 647. According to Boeing, passenger traffic is 75% from August 2019, and passenger load factors were back in August 2019. At the same time, risks are skew to the downside for 2023 due to the cost-of-living crisis and the propensity to not go on holiday.
The decline in cobalt and cobalt chemical prices was pronounced in H1 2022. Cobalt prices in Europe and the US have held up comparatively well compared to China, with the US and Europe 99.8% in Baltimore and Rotterdam trade at around $25/lb, down from $40/lb at the beginning of the year. The shanghai spot price has also declined sharply, but Q4 sales are traditionally strong in China, so there could be an upside to cobalt prices in the immediate term. China grade 1 99.8% cobalt has seen this lift, pushing back towards CNY350,000/t; however, cobalt sulphate 20.5% DEL and spot around $60,000/t with DEL marginally lower at $53,000/t. This differential is expected to converge in the coming months, as historically, the spread has rarely been this wide. Cobalt oxide 72% prices in China and Rotterdam have declined to CNY211,000/t and $37/lb, respectively.
Cobalt 99.8% Rotterdam vs 99.8% Cobalt Baltimore vs Shanghai Chanjiang Co Spot
After a moderate bounce in October prices have started to decline once again, as macro fears and China’s COVID cases rise.
Similarly, to the other chemical products, European prices have held up comparatively to China. Due to China being the dominant player in the manufacturing of these battery chemicals. Availability has been low in recent months. The production of cobalt products will remain flat until year-end, and with Chinese New Year in Q1, the output may pick up steam later. This could reduce availability and provide an upside to prices. However, the caveat remains that the economic downturn in Europe could offset this, even though investment into the battery supply chain remains strong.
Regarding recycling, according to BNEF, battery capacity has increased by 38% since 2021, Europe has tripled its capacity in the last two years, and these generally will target NMC 811 and 622 cathodes. The EU battery directive stipulates that from January 2027 EV and industry batteries must contain a minimum of recycled material by 2030, 12% for cobalt which will increase to 20% by 2035. According to the European Commission, the volume of recovered metals in 2018 was low; 22% of cobalt was recycled. LABs have set the standard with the European Parliamentary Research Service, indicating that a study by Eurobeat found that collection rates and auto LABs are at 99%, approximately 90-100% of lead is recovered, and member countries reporting rates above 97%. Investment in recycling facilities will increase efficiencies, and LIBs efficiency targets have been set at 65% by 2025, rising to 80% by 2030. Targets for recovery rates have also been set out, 90% for cobalt by 2025 and then 95% by 2030; this would reduce resource insecurity. The European Commission expect demand growth for cobalt more than doubles by 2030. Similarly, the World Economic Forum indicated that 13% of cobalt demand can be supplied by battery recycling in 2030. When we look at the current system in Europe, it is largely untapped, and while recycling facilities but batteries have higher specification and quality requirements.
Lithium prices have outperformed this year as supply security dominated the market. The fragile supply chain has caused many stakeholders along the value chain to adopt Joint Ventures to reduce lead times and secure material. The market balance for lithium suggests that carmakers need to secure supplies to improve production. The projected deficits towards the end of the decade will lengthen lead times; while we expect some capacity to come online, we anticipate these projects to be too minor to fill this supply gap. The deficit in 2022 for lithium carbonate we estimate to be 25,300 tonnes. However, next year we expect the market to be in less of a deficit at 12,510 tonnes. We see a downside to this figure, as the energy crisis could hit EV demand in Europe, and the Chinese market may suffer slightly due to the changes to subsidies. In recent years EV sales in China and globally have beaten expectations, and the increase in the number of vehicles available has led to greater competition. We expect the larger range of vehicles to boost sales, as it reduces range anxiety.
European Lithium Prices
Lithium Hydroxide Prices have diverged, and the spread between lithium carbonate and hydroxide. The European market could soften in 2023, but the bloc remains reliant on China.
New lithium projects will help reduce the deficit, but they are expected to be active in H2 2023. According to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, the time taken to bring new capacity online will depend on the extraction method but can take between 3-5 years. However, the environmental impact of mining is under extra scrutiny. EVs remain significantly better on an emissions basis throughout the whole lifecycle of the vehicle. The discount rate for lithium could therefore be higher in the near term to favour material extraction to maximise profit, in addition to the greater risk to projects due to the new entrants into the market.
The Chilean government is putting together a framework for the salt flats and a national lithium company. Mining Minister Marcela Hernando highlighted that a specialised group was formed to advise on the best way to operate the company. CAPEX for downstream capacity depends on the project; according to Wealth Minerals, lithium, or hydroxide production of 25,000t p.a. can be $600m. However, cathodes for the same capacity are $100m. SQM and Albemarle will continue to invest in Chile, with SQM planning $2.25bn of investment between 2021-24. This is expected to increase capacity to 210,000t p.a. in 2023. They aim to reduce their brine extraction by 50%. Similarly, Albemarle is investing $100m to expand their lithium carbonate capacity to over 85,000t p.a., and once all the expected projects in Chile and Argentina, for that matter, come online, they will represent 38% of global supply. The Director of the National Geological Society Chile has suggested they invest $40bn to satisfy consumption by 2030.
USGS World Lithium Reserves
Chile and Australia have the most lithium reserves, however there is a lot of investment into cleaning up the processes.
CRU indicate that lithium carbonate production exceeds hydroxide; this will change as high nickel batteries increase in dominance as gigafactories in the US and Europe rise. According to the USGS, global resources are 89m tons as of 2021, with reserves at 22m tons. Chile's reserves are the highest at 9.2m tons, with Australia, China, and Argentina next at 5.7m tons, 2.7m tons, and 2.2m tons, respectively. The Australian government has recently committed to $250m in loans to expand Pilbara Minerals Ltd's Pilgangoora Operations in Western Australia. With Tianqi Lithium, Albermarle, and SQM partnering with Australian companies to build lithium hydroxide facilities, private investment has also increased. We expect these investments to continue to grow as part of the Government's Strategy for Batteries and Critical Minerals.
China is expanding their reach in the value chain; in 2021, China controlled 65% of the globe's lithium processing and refining capacity, according to Rystad Energy. Investment from China into resource security is attributed to them only holding 25% of global reserves. Ganfeng Lithium has started construction of $600m lithium chloride in Salta, in addition to their Mariana stake and 47% of the Cauchari-Olaroz project. The supply chain needs to diversify away from China, and there is a significant lack of refining capacity outside China. The investment in Gigafactories is positive for the US and European markets, but these regions need more refining capacity. Spodumene projects in 2023 are expected to come online, increasing supply; lithium salt production has also been strong. They will ease tightness in the market, especially if we see a slowdown in European demand. Australian exports of spodumene to China peaked in October at 98,921 tonnes and now stand at 86,338 tonnes. This is above the previous YTD high, possibly due to strong demand in Q4 and high battery demand. Spodumene prices remain high from Australia, especially Li20 6%min CIF, which trades at $6,110/t, up from $2,560/t spodumene 6% FOB Australia has plateaued in recent months and holds above $5,127.5/t.
Australia Port Hedland Spodumene Exports vs 6% Spodumene Australia FOB vs Li20 6%min CIF China.
The spread between 6% Spodumene FOB and Li20 6% CIF has widened, but exports have remains strong.
Lithium prices have surged higher this year; as mentioned above, lithium carbonate is in high demand due to the LFP cell market share. North America lithium carbonate 99.5% DEL has continued to rise as prices in China and Europe has moderated. We expect demand in North America to remain strong, which could keep lithium carbonate prices high due to the elongated supply chain. Lithium hydroxide prices in North America, we also expect lithium hydroxide prices firm as gigafactory investment increases, and the battery cathode chemistries start to favour high nickel batteries and, therefore, lithium hydroxide. Battery grade lithium carbonate EXW carbonate prices have plateaued and stands at CNY69,700/t; these prices are still towards the highs and demand. Chinese output of lithium carbonate was 34,168 tonnes, up from 32,800 tonnes in September. According to SMM, the output for the first 10 months of the year is 278,600 tonnes, which is up 62% Y/Y. The forecast for November is 37,300 tonnes as battery output rises. Lithium hydroxide production was 26,000 tonnes, up 55% Y/Y, and output from China through the first ten months of 2022 was 193,900 tonnes, up 35% Y/Y. The European prices have remained elevated, with the Hydroxide CIF swap at $55,000/t; prices have increased from around $20,000 tonne at the start of the year.
China Lithium Carbonate vs North America Lithium Hydroxide FOB Swap vs Lithium Hydroxide Monohydrate LiOH 56.5%
Lithium Carbonate prices have extended gains in recent weeks as the deficit continues. We expect this to continue in the short term.
Lithium demand from batteries is expected to break 1.5m tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent by 2025 and 3m tonnes by 2030, with Mckinsey & Company indicating that 4,000GWh of this demand will be from the mobility sector, representing 90% of the total lithium-ion battery demand. They also believe mobility demand will represent 1,500 GWh in 2025. On a geographical breakdown, 40% of this will come from China, while the split between LFP and NMC will be even. The Inflation Reduction Act in the US will boost demand from North America; however, they still need to catch up to Europe and China. BNEF estimate that US EV battery demand will reach 200GWh in 2024 and expect the total fleet to increase by more than 20% by 2030. New policies and targets from the three largest consuming regions will continue to boost sales. New European targets will mean that by 2030 at least 60% of new sales will have to be EVs. Demand for EVs has outpaced expectations, and we expect this to be the case in 2023; however, market sentiment in China could weigh on the market as we see a re-opening trade in Q2 2023 earliest. This would dampen lithium prices, especially when you factor in higher supply.
Battery Technology Comparison
Fuel cells (FC) have a clear advantage over most technologies, but efficiencies for LI and other chemistries are significantly higher.
Volume Weighted Average Lithium-ion Battery Pack and Cell Price Split
The total costs increased due to higher material prices.
Battery chemistry development is continuing, and we expect that efficiencies will increase. According to Mckinsey, LFP and NMC will be the dominant cathode chemistries going forward; this is the case in today's market, with LFPs taking more market share than previously expected. According to BNEF, 40% of batteries used in passenger vehicles were LFP cells in 2022, up from 16% in 2021. SMM data suggests LFP production in October was 123,317 tonnes, up 171%, through to the end of October, reached 763,300 tonnes, up 150% Y/Y. We expect production to be flat in November, as output is already high. The last months of the year are peak seasons; this will keep output high into year-end, especially as subsidies will end shortly. The lack of lithium salts could hinder the output of LFP cells, and higher lithium prices could also be impactful. LMO and LCO production was also higher for October at 6,186 tonnes, up 3% M/M and 5% Y/Y, and LCO output was 7,327 tonnes. Shortages of lithium carbonate could impact output, and we expect to see the supply chain continue to struggle until we see more capacity built; LCO output could suffer due to its high costs and lack of material.
NMC 811 Cathode CO2 Emissions & Energy Use
A battery comparison by Townsend, A.; Gouws, R. A, 2022, highlights the different chemistries. The paper compares LA, NiMH, Li, NiCd, LiPo, Zn-O2, NAS, VFB, and FC and highlights the energy and power density, Cycle life, Charge/discharge efficiency, self-discharge rate, depth of discharge, and cost. These are all essential metrics in deciphering what the best battery technology is. LI is the best option out of those compared; LiPo, a lithium polymer technology, has strong energy and power density. While the lifecycle of LiPo is considerably less than Li at 500 compared to 400-1200, the cost is also higher for LiPo at 2.3095 USD/Wh (Townsend, A.; Gouws, R.A., 2022). According to the data, Fuel Cells (FC) have the best metrics across the power, except for charge/discharge efficiency, which is 40-60 compared to 80-90 of Li; FC has a depth of discharge of 100. The depth of discharge is the percentage of the battery that has been discharged relative to the overall capacity. Therefore, the more frequent the discharge, the shorter the lifespan, and the higher the percentage, the more energy in the battery you can use.
Economies of scale will reduce costs and boost productivity across the supply chain. Orangi.S, and Stromman. AH, 2022, perform a process-based cost model to investigate the final cost for producing ten battery cell chemistries on large scales in 9 different locations. The paper concluded that for NMCs and NCA commodity prices were the main driver of costs accounting for 43% of NMC costs according to Element Energy, and a 30% increase in the cobalt price would lead to a 12.6% increase in price for NMC111-G, and 8.8%, 7.1%, and 4.6%, for NMC532-G, NMC622-G, and NCA-G chemistries respectively, as per Orangi, S.; Strømman, A.H who assume production in the US. The supply gaps and battery cell sensitivity to material prices have triggered joint ventures between miners, OEMs, and other stakeholders along the value chain. We expect more deals to be announced in the coming years.
LFP Cathode CO2 Emissions and Energy Use
Range anxiety is a crucial argument against buying an EV, and while the average daily distance covered by drivers is between 35-50km, for vehicles with an average range of 470km in Europe and 430km in the US is less of a problem, according to BNEF. They also estimate that since 2019 BEV range has increased by 14% CAGR, we expect vehicle ranges to continue to improve, especially with the CATL 1,000km battery due to being released in the coming months, as well as the progress made by Mercedes for their Vision EQXX which broke the 1,000km range barrier on a single charge, and reached 1,200km earlier this year. While the vehicle itself will not be released, the data will enable Mercedes to increase the range of their cars through greater efficiency. We believe range anxiety will dissipate in the coming years, especially as the average daily miles covered are a maximum of 50km a day. The power density of the NiMH is the best, as per Townsend, A.; Gouws, R. A, at 250-1000W/kg; however, fuel cells have an energy density of 1,500Wh/kg. NMC cathodes are to be favoured over LCO or LFP outside China because it combines the two technologies to achieve a higher energy density and low internal resistance and, as a result, higher power density and good thermal stability.
BNEF indicate that lifecycle CO2 emissions for a battery produced in 2022 and used for 250,000km in Germany, the US, and China are 56%, 60%, and 27% lower than ICE vehicles. However, the majority of emissions are due to cell production in China, and increasing the renewable energy field will reduce emissions, as well as adopting a more circular model, the World Economic Forum for medium-sized vehicles is 159.5g/km3, and this is forecast to drop to 99.8g/km3, assuming a 200,000km use cycle. CATL Chairman Robin Zeng has indicated that renewable energy and large-scale recycling can reduce the environmental impact of the production process, but the recovery rates and usage of recycled material are low.
NMC 622 Cathode CO2 Emissions & Energy Use
As supply chains are adjusted and the gigafactories in Europe and the US are built, we expect the emission to decline. However, for emissions to fall above expectations, there needs to be more emphasis on the construction of refineries in consuming regions. Thus, reducing the lead time for materials, meaning fewer emissions in the supply chain and transportation of goods, as well as reducing costs. As Orangi.S, and Stromman. AH, 2022, highlights that material costs represent between 43%-57%, depending on the cathode chemistry. Building costs can also significantly impact the price of the battery cell, and research suggests that a 25% increase in building costs will result in a 2.3% rise in cell costs, while higher labour costs will lead to an 8.2% rise. As a result, the producer region has a massive impact on production and cell cost in $/kWh. Orangi.S, and Stromman. AH, 2022 analysis suggests that Germany, France, Norway, and Sweden have the highest cell cost $/KWh, China is the lowest at $106.4/kWh, with Norway at $153.6/kWh.
China Lithium-Ion Output in China
Production has declined from the highs and year-on-year output is cumulatively down.
As highlighted above, securing raw materials has become paramount for OEMs and other stakeholders across the value chain. Commodity costs are a crucial component of the volatility in battery cell prices, but the secondary market can increase resource security and help keep costs down in the longer run. The EV recycling market is untapped mainly because it is still a new market; however, we expect this to change in the coming years due to EU Battery Directive and resource security. Redwood will provide cathode material to Panasonic from their Kansas plant; material feeds like this also reduce the environmental and social risks associated with critical mineral mining. Northvolt aim to produce 150kWh of batteries by 2030, they aim to have half their raw materials from old batteries. Renault Group and Stallantis have seen value in recycling, this has caused them to create new entities to improve recycling revenues to €2.3bn and €2bn, respectively. Renault have indicated that 85% of the materials in vehicles can be recycled, but the current rate is 20-30%, comparatively Stellantis have a minimum target of 35% recycled content, depending on the vehicle. The technique used to recycle batteries is imperative, as are the processes which are used to separate the materials, upgrading the recycling process stage specifically will reduce emissions specifically for pyrometallurgical stage (Rajaeifar, MA, Raugei, M, Steubing, B, et al. 2021). Batteries require a higher quality of material; therefore, pre-process sorting and separation is important to reduce contaminants.
The EU Parliament have set out preliminary regulations, part of this regulation stipulates that from July 2024 the CO2 balance of batteries, from extraction to production and recycling must be indicated. The European commission highlight that recycled content the volume of recovered metals used in battery production is low. 12% for aluminium, 22% of cobalt, 8% of manganese, and 16% nickel used in Europe is recycled. From 2027 battery producers must recover 90% of nickel and cobalt, and 95% by 2031; compared to 50% of lithium being recycled by 2027, rising to 80% by 2030. When you factor in the length of the supply chain, processing costs and impact, and availability of EoL material in the EU, this makes little sense. The processes are currently in-efficient, and the EU directive provided insufficient provisions on certain aspects of the value chain. One of the key elements to low recycling of batteries is the poor collection rates, largely due to poor frameworks and policy as members states have different approaches and policies. In practice, building recycling plants and efficient frameworks that incorporate the circular economy is challenging, but currently the situation is sub-optimal but investment in this area will improve efficiency and economies of scale. According to the European Commission, 15m tons of LIBs are expected to retire by 2030 with Aqua Metals at 11m lbs, and basis the European Commission’s calculation of 1 tonnes of lithium, from 28 tonnes of used batteries, from 256 EVs, this would result in 535,714 tonnes of lithium. Currently, less than 5% of LIBs were collected and recycled in 2019, according to the US Department of Energy. There needs to be an emphasis on increasing the collection rates, and recovery of material. Harper, G., Sommerville, R., Kendrick, E. et al. also suggest that while some material from EoL batteries can be upcycled, there remains large amounts of waste. New technologies will continue to improve efficiency, but the specifications of these battery materials are so high that there will be waste.