Renewable energy is important for the world to develop a more sustainable form of fuel asides from finite fossil fuels. Cobalt has a key role in developing renewable energies such as solar power, wind power and bio-gas.
Although cobalt is not directly used in the solar panels themselves, rechargeable batteries are important to store the energy produced. Rechargeable batteries can be used to harness solar power for use for a single house or even for ancillary power services. Currently, lithium ion batteries are leading the way as storage systems for solar energy. Cobalt plays a crucial role in the cathode of lithium-ion batteries.
The power of the wind can also be harnessed to generate electricity. By using large turbine blades to catch the wind, electricity can be generated. The wind rotates a shaft that feeds into a generator, converting motion into electricity. In order to create electricity the generator is dependant on a magnetic field.
By using permanent magnets in the generator, the magnetic field is created without an input of electricity, allowing the turbines to run at lower wind speeds whilst still producing energy. The use of permanent magnets also negates the need for a gearbox in the turbine, making the machinery more reliable and less expensive to maintain.
Cobalt is an important component of the strongest permanent magnets and is therefore a vital element for renewable wind power.
Finally, cobalt’s role as a bioessential element plays a large role in renewable biogas technology.
Biogas can be defined as an environmental technology used for the degradation of complex organic material, to produce energy-rich gases. The production utilises organic materials such as those found in landfill waste, sewage sludge, bio-waste treatment and certain species of crops.
In biogas production, methanogenic bacteria grow on the organic material in an anaerobic environment, leading to fermentation. Methanogenic bacteria rely on several different trace elements in their metabolism pathways including cobalt, zinc, manganese, molybdenum, and nickel. By adding small amounts of cobalt sulphate, cobalt chloride, cobalt carbonate, or cobalt acetate the production of biogas is improved.
Biogas is a methane-based energy carrier and is widely uses for delocalised electricity and heat production. Biogas can also be used as a renewable replacement for natural gas.
By turning open stored manure into biogas, nitrous oxide and methane emissions can also be reduced.The residue left behind from biogas production is named the digestate and can be used in sustainable agricultural methods such as replenishing soils with the nutrients removed from the harvest. The use of digestate in this way reduces the use of chemical fertilizers which can leach into water supplies and cause environmental issues.