MARVEL TO BEHOLD: Black Panther’s Lesson for Cobalt – by David Fickling (Bloomberg News – February 21, 2018)

The battery material used in electric cars is no vibranium.

An isolated African nation possesses unique deposits of a rare and valuable metal. Its leaders aim to nationalize mineral wealth, while a white South African trader seeks a more vigorous export market. Inevitably, resources bring tragedy as well as triumph. With great power comes great responsibility.

If that sounds like the plot of the current box-office smash Black Panther, it has a real-world echo. The Democratic Republic of Congo has an endowment of cobalt scarcely less outsized than the fictional Wakanda’s reserves of vibranium.

With the rise of electric vehicles forecast to increase demand for the battery material more than fourfold and cobalt prices tripling over the past two years, the paralysed, election-dodging government in Kinshasa is weighing a 150 percent increase in mining royalties.

Those levies may threaten the plans of Ivan Glasenberg, the Johannesburg-raised chief executive officer of the world’s biggest cobalt producer Glencore Plc, who wants to double production from the company’s Congolese mines.

Black Panther’s depiction of an African kingdom that used resource wealth to become the most advanced society on earth is enticing because it’s superficially plausible. Five of the 10 richest countries on the planet are oil states; the glittering skyline of Wakanda’s capital Birnin Zana resembles few places so much as the skyscraper forests of Dubai, Doha and Riyadh. So why shouldn’t life imitate art?

For the rest of this article: