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Shortage of Ethically Sourced Cobalt from Congo Causes Trouble for GE, Apple, Tesla…and More

Major manufacturers like Tesla and General Electric are facing a severe shortage of ethically sourced cobalt, and the metal is expected to increase in demand by 500%, says OilPrice.com. Amazon, too, needs the metal for its Kindle, and other consumer electronics are contributing to the demand and resulting shortage of supply. Tesla’s run on cobalt will be phenomenal on its own: the battery industry uses 42% of global cobalt production, while the rest is used in industrial and military applications, and all are competing for supply.

Apple is another company that could suffer from a cobalt shortage. Still, in April Apple stopped buying cobalt mined by hand in Congo following reports of child labor and dangerous work conditions there.

Currently, more than half of the world’s supply of cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Use of child workers in appalling conditions in the DRC means that difficult supply chain questions are starting to be asked. Apple and Tesla will not be able to ignore the awkward questions they are being asked about their supply chains. Generally speaking, their cobalt is not ethically sourced, according to OilPrice.com.

TechCrunch has reported that approximately 97% of the world’s supply of cobalt comes as a by-product of nickel or copper, mostly out of Africa. However, there is hope for manufacturers that need sustainably sourced cobalt. US Cobalt (formerly Scientific Metals) is buying cobalt property Iron Creek in the Idaho Cobalt Belt – one of the most prolific cobalt mineralization areas in the US – and will be one of the two pure-play cobalt companies in the US.

Cobalt prices have risen by more than 50% just as buyers are under pressure to find more ethical sources, reports the Financial Times.

Fujitsu has just announced that, through proprietary materials-design technology and the discovery of factors that improve the voltage of iron-based materials, it has successfully synthesized lithium iron pyrophosphat which boasts voltage of 3.8 V, comparable to that of existing cobalt-based materials. The company says this development will provide an alternative to cobalt-based materials, alleviating supply and cost concerns relating to the rare metal.


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