Demand for batteries in everything from smartphones to electric cars has driven up the price of the once obscure element cobalt, fueling fears of a shortage.
Prices for the metal, which is essential in making lithium-ion batteries, more than doubled in 2017 over the previous year, according to the United States Geological Survey. Researchers haven't yet found a good substitute or way to build batteries without the mineral.
Apple, which needs the metal for its iPhones, iPads, laptops and other gadgets, is looking to buy cobalt directly from miners. It's also needed to make electric car batteries, sending automakers on the hunt for the raw material. German automaker BMW, which has been a relatively early entrant into the electric car business, is looking to sign five- to 10-year supply contracts.
Demand for cobalt in vehicle battery materials is expected to grow over 40 percent in 2018, according to U.K.-based cobalt trading firm Darton Commodities. Electric and hybrid vehicle adoption in China and Europe are expected to be significant contributors, and the production ramp of the Tesla Model 3 is projected to be the major driver of EV adoption in the U.S., Darton said in its annual Cobalt Market Review report published in February.