Over the last century technology has developed dramatically which has enabled humans to become more mobile. Cobalt has a large role to play in this change and is utilised in some key applications for both transport and portable devices. The use of cobalt in batteries, magnets, superalloys, wear resistant alloys and prosthetics can all be seen to have evolved our mobility.
The invention of the lithium-ion battery has enabled electronic technologies to become smaller and free from mains electricity. Portable devices such as laptops, mobile phones, tablets and even cutting tools, have all come off the back of the invention of the lithium-ion battery and represent an important component to everyday life. The lithium-cobalt oxide (LCO) battery is usually used to power these devices however nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) battery is preferred for cutting tools due to the high power required.
The lithium-ion battery is also starting to cause a major revolution in transport. Hybrid Electrical Vehicle sales are increasing and represent a green solution to current petrol powered vehicles. For electronic vehicles, the nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) batteries are expected to be the battery technology utilised.
Cobalt alloys are also vital for transport as they provide unique characteristics for the hostile environments within engines. Cobalt superalloys are used in gas turbine engines within aerospace allowing components to withstand higher temperatures translating into increased thrust. Cobalt wear resistant alloys, usually transferred by electroplating, also diminish the possibility of component failure within engines.
Cobalt alloys allow engine components to function in hostile environments.
Cobalt containing magnets are also used in motors, sensors and actuators in transport systems. Neodymium-iron-boron (Ne-Fe-B) Magnets, which also contain between 1-16% of cobalt, are an essential part of high speed Magnetic Levitation (Maglev) train systems such as those used in Japan.
Mobility and independence for the elderly
The western world is an ever-ageing society making technology to increase mobility for the elderly vital. Cobalt therefore has a key medical role in being used for prosthetics and orthopaedic implants, particularly for hip replacements. The cobalt based cathode technology present in NMC batteries is also important for mobility scooters. Both technologies allow independence at a greater age, increasing the quality of life.