Companies are racing to purchase cobalt, which is a crucial element in modern technology. CNBC reports that the metal is essential in making lithium-ion batteries and its price more than doubled from 2016 to 2017. In addition to traditional tech companies like Apple, electric vehicle makers are on the hunt for the element. Demand for cobalt for vehicle batteries is expected to jump 40% this year, according to CNBC. The carmaker BMW is looking to sign years-long supply contracts.
Cobalt is a chemical element with symbol Co and atomic number 27. Like nickel, cobalt is found in the Earth’s crust only in chemically combined form, save for small deposits found in alloys of natural meteoric iron. The free element, produced by reductive smelting, is a hard, lustrous, silver-gray metal.
Cobalt-based blue pigments (cobalt blue) have been used since ancient times for jewelry and paints, and to impart a distinctive blue tint to glass, but the color was later thought by alchemists to be due to the known metal bismuth. Miners had long used the name kobold ore (German for goblin ore) for some of the blue-pigment producing minerals; they were so named because they were poor in known metals, and gave poisonous arsenic-containing fumes when smelted. In 1735, such ores were found to be reducible to a new metal (the first discovered since ancient times), and this was ultimately named for the kobold.
Today, some cobalt is produced specifically from one of a number of metallic-lustered ores, such as for example cobaltite (CoAsS). The element is however more usually produced as a by-product of copper and nickel mining. The copper belt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Central African Republic and Zambia yields most of the global cobalt production. The DRC alone accounted for more than 50% of world production in 2016 (123,000 tonnes), according to Natural Resources Canada.
Cobalt is primarily used in the manufacture of magnetic, wear-resistant and high-strength alloys. The compounds cobalt silicate and cobalt(II) aluminate (CoAl2O4, cobalt blue) give a distinctive deep blue color to glass, ceramics, inks, paints and varnishes. Cobalt occurs naturally as only one stable isotope, cobalt-59. Cobalt-60 is a commercially important radioisotope, used as a radioactive tracer and for the production of high energy gamma rays.
Cobalt is the active center of a group of coenzymes called cobalamins. vitamin B12, the best-known example of the type, is an essential trace mineral for all animals. Cobalt in inorganic form is also a micronutrient for bacteria, algae, and fungi.
Nissan has admitted to falsifying emissions data, although it hasn’t specified how many vehicles were affected or whether it impacts cars outside Japan, per the BBC. It’s the second scandal in recent months for the automaker, which revealed in September that it had allowed unauthorized technicians to test cars. Over a million vehicles were recalled for reinspection. This latest announcement comes after an emissions scandal at Volkswagen that cost the German carmaker over $30 billion (BBC).
Types of emissions
Emissions of many air pollutants have been shown to have variety of negative effects on public health and the natural environment. Emissions that are principal pollutants of concern include:
Hydrocarbons (HC) – A class of burned or partially burned fuel, hydrocarbons are toxins. Hydrocarbons are a major contributor to smog, which can be a major problem in urban areas. Prolonged exposure to hydrocarbons contributes to asthma, liver disease, lung disease, and cancer. Regulations governing hydrocarbons vary according to type of engine and jurisdiction; in some cases, “non-methane hydrocarbons” are regulated, while in other cases, “total hydrocarbons” are regulated. Technology for one application (to meet a non-methane hydrocarbon standard) may not be suitable for use in an application that has to meet a total hydrocarbon standard. Methane is not directly toxic, but is more difficult to break down in fuel vent lines and a charcoal canister is meant to collect and contain fuel vapors and route them either back to the fuel tank or, after the engine is started and warmed up, into the air intake to be burned in the engine.
Carbon monoxide (CO) – A product of incomplete combustion, inhaled carbon monoxide reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen; overexposure (carbon monoxide poisoning) may be fatal. (Carbon monoxide persistently binds to hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying chemical in red blood cells, where oxygen (O2) would temporarily bind; the bonding of CO excludes O2 and also reduces the ability of the hemoglobin to release already-bound oxygen, on both counts rendering the red blood cells ineffective. Recovery is by the slow release of bound CO and the body’s production of new hemoglobin—a healing process—so full recovery from moderate to severe [but nonfatal] CO poisoning takes hours or days. Removing a person from a CO-poisoned atmosphere to fresh air stops the injury but does not yield prompt recovery, unlike the case where a person is removing from an asphyxiating atmosphere [i.e. one deficient in oxygen]. Toxic effects delayed by days are also common.)
NOx – Generated when nitrogen in the air reacts with oxygen at the high temperature and pressure inside the engine. NOx is a precursor to smog and acid rain. NOx is the sum of NO and NO2. NO2 is extremely reactive. NOx production is increased when an engine runs at its most efficient (i.e. hottest) operating point, so there tends to be a natural tradeoff between efficiency and control of NOx emissions.
Particulate matter – Soot or smoke made up of particles in the micrometre size range: Particulate matter causes negative health effects, including but not limited to respiratory disease and cancer. Very fine particulate matter has been linked to cardiovascular disease.
Sulfur oxide (SOx) – A general term for oxides of sulfur, which are emitted from motor vehicles burning fuel containing sulfur. Reducing the level of fuel sulfur reduces the level of Sulfur oxide emitted from the tailpipe.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – Organic compounds which typically have a boiling point less than or equal to 250 °C; for example chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and formaldehyde. Volatile organic compounds are a subsection of Hydrocarbons that are mentioned separately because of their dangers to public health.