A recent article in the Wall Street Journal showcased the race to control the battery industry, focused on cobalt mining. According to the authors Scott Patterson and Russell Gold, there’s a worldwide race to get as much cobalt as possible, and it’s located in the Congo.
The article points out how freelance miners in the Congo are doing whatever they can to mine cobalt for Chinese buyers, who are selling to Chinese companies, that process the cobalt into rechargeable, lithium-ion batteries used in laptops, smartphones, and electric vehicles.
Their research indicates that the Congo’s natural supply of cobalt for electric vehicles can be compared to what Saudi Arabia’s oil is to internal combustion engines. So far, their research shows that China is the world’s largest electric-car market, and companies from China are in the process of dominating lithium-ion battery production.
In the process, freelance miners with no masks or safety equipment are caught in a process and industry that is in high demand. According to the article, it’s attracting human rights groups such as Amnesty International to look into these supply chains and ensure companies are not using these freelance miners and child labor to mine cobalt.
The article points out the staggering numbers, with global cobalt production quadrupling to 123,000 metric tons in 2000, and is expecting to reach more than 200,000 tons by 2025. Using cobalt in lithium-ion batteries, however, is not widespread, according to the article. In the article, the authors spoke with some battery experts who say that the technological shifts to make rechargeable batteries with less cobalt, or none at all, might make this mineral less important in future battery production.
With new tariffs on solar panels imposed by the U.S. President Donald Trump, the article points out that some technology experts worry what can happen if China gains a competitive hold in the battery industry.