Electric cars: the race to replace cobalt – by Henry Sanderson (Financial Times – August 20, 2018)

https://www.ft.com/

Manufacturers want batteries that are not dependent on metals from unstable parts of the world

In a laboratory on an industrial park an hour’s drive outside Boston, Tufts professor Michael Zimmerman is hoping a material he invented in his basement can help solve a crisis facing the electric car industry — which has inadvertently tied its fortunes to one of the poorest and least stable countries in the world.

In between his teaching, Mr Zimmerman runs start-up Ionic Materials, whose battery material could mark the future for the car industry as it races to go electric after a century of producing petrol cars. His hope is that his homegrown prototype could pave the way for a new generation of batteries that does not use cobalt, a silver-grey metal, more than 60 per cent of which is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Backed by highly respected computer scientist and investor Bill Joy, who spent years searching for the perfect battery, Ionic counts the Renault Nissan Mitsubishi carmaker alliance, Hyundai and French oil company Total among its shareholders.

“The world wants to electrify vehicles,” Mr Zimmerman says in his office across the car park from a shopping mall. “I’ve never seen such a massive industry say [it wants] to completely switch technologies. Every single company, government and country — they all want to do it worldwide.”

The list of Ionic’s backers reflects increasing concerns among carmakers over current battery technology and its reliance on the DRC. Cobalt supply is dominated by a handful of mining companies, including Switzerland-based Glencore, or mined by hand and sold to Chinese traders in the country. Child labour is common, according to human rights groups.

For the rest of this article: https://www.ft.com/content/3b72645a-91cc-11e8-bb8f-a6a2f7bca546

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