Electrical Faults: will the switch to electric cars create healthy shockwaves in the cobalt supply chain?

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Electric cars are the solution to all our transport pollution issues. Or are they? Following France’s ban on petrol and diesel cars by 2040, other countries are following suit. The result is an expected increase in electric cars operated on re-chargeable batteries and a decrease in pollution. However, in addition to the fact that electric cars are powered by electricity from coal fueled plants, there are also issues in the supply chains of the components of the cars, particularly that of lithium-ion batteries. Production of the battery requires cobalt, but supplies of this mineral are currently limited (due to the lack of sources) and ethically questionable. The majority of the world’s cobalt is from the DRC, however, the current unstable political climate in the country has led to a fall in production and a sharp increase in price. Over the last year the price has more than doubled, reaching 59784USD/MT in June. With supply still restricted and demand set to increase further, the market is expecting further increases in price. One potential consequence of this is that the increased profit margins will draw artisan miners and traders into the market who couldn’t not previously afford to operate. This trend is likely to increase the risk of conflict-minerals entering the supply chain, something which is unfortunately already occurring. There is a lack of transparency in the sourcing of cobalt, which not only impacts the car industry, but has a broader reach into other supply chains, such as that of the smart phones most of us use.

Can anything be done to address these supply chain issues? There is no doubt that solving the sourcing issues for cobalt and other minerals is highly complex and requires a holistic multi-agency approach. However, the expected rise in the price of cobalt, resulting from the increased demand, should allow extraction companies to invest in their mining processes and traceability solutions. One of the issues is that as the price of cobalt increases, it will be attractive for people to sell cobalt on the black market, hiding the origin of the mineral and the practices used to extract it. With supply limited, buyers may also choose to turn a blind eye to practices in order to obtain the cobalt they need. However, for those who choose to, the increased profit margins could be re-invested in the supply chain to improve its sustainability, including increased transparency. GeoT already supports companies demonstrate that their tin, tantalum and tungsten are sourced ethically, and provides tools to gather data on interventions taken with artisan producers.

With the increased global focus on the cobalt supply chain, extraction companies now have the opportunity to differentiate themselves through providing customers with piece of mind about the origin of their cobalt.