China’s cobalt dominance meets blockchain-backed resistance – by Rurika Imahashi and Nikki Sun (Nikkei Asian Review – July 17, 2018)

TOKYO/HONG KONG — The equation could not be simpler. Electric cars are widely considered the future of the auto industry. Each electric car battery requires about 10 kg of cobalt. Control the cobalt supply, win the future. China, clearly, has done the math.

Most of the cobalt produced in the Democratic Republic of Congo — the world’s top source of the metal by far — is purchased by Chinese companies like Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt and refined back in China. The strategy appears to be to control the supply chain so that electric car production is virtually impossible without Chinese involvement.

“If cobalt falls into the hands of the Chinese, yeah you won’t see EVs being produced in Europe, etc.,” Ivan Glasenberg, the chief executive of Swiss miner Glencore, warned in March at the FT Commodities Global Summit.

The strategy may be simple, but countering it is not. One possibility lies in blockchains — the digital ledgers that underpin cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

This technology could radically change the way the metal is produced and procured. The latest sign of China’s determination to corner the market came on July 8. Citic Metal, a subsidiary of state-owned investment company Citic, finalized a decision to acquire a 19.5% stake in Ivanhoe Mines, a Canadian resources developer.

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