EV Surge Sends Cobalt Prices Soaring; China controls big chunk of market for key metal in car batteries that is mined largely in AfricaFriday, January 22, 2021, 11:38 AM ETBy Yang JieA 20% rise in the price of cobalt since the beginning of this year shows how the rush to build more electric vehicles is stressing global supply chains.Already a shortage of semiconductors is slowing the recovery in auto production. Now cobalt, a blue metal that is needed for many types of batteries including those in EVs, is a concern, according to people in the auto and battery industries and analysts."The demand is not going to shrink any time soon, while the supply remains tight mainly due to logistics disruptions in South Africa during the pandemic," said Ying Lu, an analyst at London-based commodity research firm Roskill.Energy-dense cobalt is used as the stabilizer in batteries. It helps protect the battery's cathode from corrosion that can lead to a fire.A majority of the world's cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in central Africa. It typically is carried overland to South Africa, shipped out from the port of Durban, South Africa, and processed in China before the material goes to battery makers—meaning the supply chain has several choke points that make it vulnerable to disruption.In 2017 and 2018, during an earlier rush of interest in EVs, the price of cobalt quadrupled in the space of two years before a boost in production calmed the market down. Recent moves aren't as extreme, but the spot price of cobalt rose to $38,520 a ton as of Jan. 21, according to Futuresource, up 20% since the end of December.The election of President Biden as well as recent climate-change initiatives by China and Japan have accelerated a shift to electric vehicles. Tesla Inc . has said it aims to build 20 million vehicles annually a decade from now, a 40-fold increase from last year.More EVs mean more batteries. They account for about 40% of an EV's cost, according to a report published by China-based Guotai Junan Securities Co . last year. Analysts say cobalt is the most expensive material in the batteries.