Cutting battery industry’s reliance on cobalt will be an uphill task – by Jasper Jolly (The Guardian – January 5, 2020)

Followers of Elon Musk are used to big claims on Twitter. The social media habits of the Tesla and SpaceX billionaire have landed him in legal hot water on several occasions. But for the battery industry one boast stands out: a tweeted pledge to remove an obscure mineral mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo from the next generation of Tesla’s electric cars.

Batteries are the key component in the electric car revolution that Tesla kickstarted, and each one contains cobalt. Yet concerns about human rights abuses and child labour have prompted a dual effort to cut the amount of cobalt used in batteries and to clean up complex global supply chains.

The battery industry accounts for the majority of global cobalt demand, and that demand is set to soar with more than $60bn (£46bn) of investments in new battery factories during 2019, according to the data firm Benchmark Minerals.

Musk tweeted his pledge in 2018 but demand for cobalt has since accelerated. Benchmark’s forecasts suggest that global demand for cobalt in 2029 will be 300,000 tonnes compared with an estimated 70,000 tonnes used in 2019.

Almost three-quarters of the world’s cobalt supply is sourced from the DRC, a country whose rule of law is among the weakest in the world and which consequently has a terrible record on working conditions and child labour. The majority is then shipped to China, the world’s largest battery manufacturer, to be processed.

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