Battery metals. There is a lot of them. It’s a constant struggle for companies to find the right mixture of metals that are efficient while not being too expensive. Meanwhile, the race for a better battery is a long and (probably) never ending trek. Part of the research being done is at Oak Ridge National Laboratories near my home so my ears were perked up.
There’s been a problem that the Founding Father of Lithium-ion batteries and everyone since has been trying to chase down why all Li-ion batteries lose capacity the very first time they charge. This can result up to 1/5 of the capacity lost before the first discharge. Think about it, up to 20% of the battery in the devices or the EV you use never saw its upper capabilities. We talk about energy density, but we lose a nice chunk before we ever use the batteries we are counting on.
Apparently, this is due impurities in the cathode that can be traced to this. The results of the study was to use Niobium as an ingredient to the cathode. For a full explanation, check out this amazing article, I cannot do it justice.
So, now Niobium. If you haven’t heard of it, well it is understandable. It has an atomic number of 41 and is identified as Nb. With a new understanding that we would need Niobium, I started digging. How could I get a position in this? A quick google search found that there is quite a bit of use for this metal. As many know, my rare earth metal play is typically MP. Mountain Pass. Not this time. I ran into a handful of companies.
The amazing thing is that Niobium is that it is something that is used extensively already to make steel harder.
The price of Niobium has followed a trend of steel so far. This makes sense, but check out the graph above, what does it not take into account? EV batteries. This discovery of a use for Nb in Li-ion batteries means that there is a new market. “Traditionally, Nb is used to improve steel’s strength, weldability, and toughness, improving its tolerance for shocks, which makes buildings, vehicles and pipelines safer and tougher.” James Boyle stated in 2017. He is the general manager of CBMM North America, the largest producer of Nb is CBMM out of Brazil. Their website is http://cbmm.com. It features how Nb is used to make vehicles structurally stronger. Unfortunately, CBMM is a private company.
You will see I looked at NioBay. I really appreciated their presentation. You can check them out at http://niobaymetals.com. One of the key things to remember is that Nb makes steel lighter and stronger for vehicle components. This is a key in auto-making of EV’s, make them lighter to make them more efficient.
The long and short of all this is that a little-known industry may need to put on their dancing shoes. The ability to help Li-Ion batteries have more capacity will draw people to this metal and pressure prices of the metal to new highs. This is a new market for the metal. Every different use and need of a material that is different makes the market healthier.
I hope to start to build out information on the companies. Stay tuned.
Figure 2 NioBay hit some nice notes on this slide.
TLDR: I believe that Nb prices will increase as a new use that is critical to Li-Ion batteries.
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Full Disclosure: I have holdings in NioBay and MP mentioned in this article. I want you to understand my biases. This is meant to be a way to expose you to the uses of Niobium and how it fits into the greater EV ecosystem. Not financial advice, just my experiences and discoveries.