In Quest for Battery Metals, U.S. Takes On Cobalt’s ‘Inconvenient Truth’ – by Alexandra Wexler and Yusuf Khan (Wall Street Journal – August 24, 2023)

U.S. officials are offering grants to companies willing to support workers in Congo’s dangerous informal mining sector

The U.S. is turning to a much-criticized source as it races to secure supplies of battery metals to meet the growing demand for electric vehicles. To do so, it is homing in on cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s informal mining sector, where miners, sometimes including children, often work with no safety equipment in dangerous, hand-dug mines.

Congo supplies around 70% of the world’s cobalt, a key metal in the lithium-ion batteries used in EVs, with about a third of that coming from these so-called artisanal miners.

The U.S. Agency for International Development said earlier this year that it would issue grants to companies that source critical minerals from Congo and were willing to support artisanal miners. Meanwhile, the Labor Department has been working with officials in the country to help improve working conditions and oversight.

The focus on artisanal mines, long shunned by the West, comes as governments and companies increase efforts to secure greater supplies of battery metals—an area China dominates. Beijing last month set export restrictions on two minerals the U.S. says are critical to the production of semiconductors, highlighting the risk of relying on Chinese supplies.

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