MELBOURNE/VANCOUVER (Reuters) – Nervous Asian battery makers are turning to early-stage cobalt projects in Australia and Canada to lock in supplies of the critical battery ingredient ahead of expected shortages as demand for electric vehicles revs up.
Mine developers say interest from Japanese and Korean firms is particularly strong as they compete with rivals from China, which has built deep supply chain ties with the Democratic Republic of Congo, the world’s top producer.
The central African country accounts for nearly two-thirds of global cobalt output and production is set to rise despite concerns over the use of child miners and rising royalties. “We are starting to see the first signs of an arms race to secure long term cobalt supplies,” said Joe Kaderavek, chief executive of Australia’s Cobalt Blue (COB.AX).
“With over 85 percent of new global cobalt supply over the next decade coming from Africa, in a region where the Chinese have entrenched relationships, the Korean and Japanese cobalt processing industries are very focused upon Australian and Canadian projects.”
South Korean battery maker SK Innovation Co Ltd (096770.KS) locked in a seven-year supply deal with Australian Mines (AUZ.AX) last month, helping to win funding for a project that has yet to make a final investment decision and does not expect to produce any cobalt until at least 2020.