Car makers and tech firms rely on cobalt mined in Katanga, the unstable province where Irish soldiers were attacked in 1961
The Congo. September 1961. Irish soldiers in Jadotville are attacked by separatist Katangan forces led by Belgian mercenaries. Jadotville is a copper-mining town in Katanga, a province in south-east Congo that is rich in minerals. The events in Jadotville feature in a popular film on Netflix starring Jamie Doran as Irish commander Pat Quinlan.
Mineral wealth drove the Katangan conflict. Katanga is back in the news. The copper mines again are involved. Car company execs are hearing “Katanga” and fretting about the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The reason: it mines most of the world’s cobalt – a sought-after ingredient for electric vehicles (EVs).
Odds are you own Congo cobalt, since each smartphone batteries contains 10 to 20 grams. Electric cars are hungrier for it, packing between six and 15 kilos. Car makers depend on big DRC mines for the metal – not ideal given its predilection for corruption, political instability and war.
About two-thirds of the global mine supplies of cobalt are concentrated in just one country, which is a worry anyway, says Jack Bedder, a market analyst at the consultancy Roskill. But the concern is greater when this country is as unstable as the DRC. Plus there are concerns around child miners and illegal mining for DRC cobalt.
How did the world’s switch to electric vehicles get hitched to this risky country? It is partly a matter of geology. Cobalt is concentrated in the Congo, where it is a by-product of nickel and copper mines.
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