What really powers your smartphone and electric car – by Lynsey Chutel (Quartz.com – December 8, 2018)


The rechargeable lithium-ion battery helps define our era. It powers our smartphones and electric cars, and promises a future where we’re better able to store renewable energy. It also requires lithium and cobalt, minerals that some of the world’s poorest countries happen to have in abundance.

That should be good news for all concerned, but mismanagement and graft—common in extractive industries—are making the latest mining boom looks uncomfortably like the bad old days of previous booms.

This week provided reminders of that. First, the Democratic Republic of Congo tripled its levies on cobalt, of which it has the world’s largest natural supply, in a move that could result in pricier smartphones and production slowdowns for electric-car makers. Also, HSBC released a report showing that the projected market share of electric vehicles will be smaller than first thought, due to the high price of lithium and cobalt amid soaring demand.

Dominance of cobalt supply has proven a cash-cow for the DR Congo’s government, but that hasn’t helped ordinary citizens much, with just a sliver of mining exports funding the national budget. The DR Congo is among the poorest countries in the world, despite its vast mineral wealth.

Gécamines, the state-owned mining company, has long faced allegations of corruption. It recently denied such allegations while conceding that (link in French) “the economic benefits of mining in the DRC do not contribute as much as they should to the wealth of our country.”

For the rest of this article: https://qz.com/1488016/what-really-powers-your-iphone-and-tesla-lithium-and-cobalt/

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