Most major automakers are pledging to build millions of electric vehicles as the world’s governments crack down on climate-damaging emissions from traditional-fuel engines. As a result, demand is surging for lithium-ion batteries and the materials needed to make them — including cobalt, a relatively rare substance found mostly in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
DRC supplies 63 percent of the world’s cobalt and its market share may jump to 73 percent by 2025 as producers like Glencore Plc expand mines, according to Wood Mackenzie Ltd. By 2030, global demand could be 47 times more than it was last year, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates.
Cobalt is a byproduct of copper and nickel mining. Until recently, there were often surplus supplies as it was used mostly to harden steel. But the bluish-gray metal’s ability to efficiently conduct electricity has made it essential for high-end rechargeable batteries. A typical power unit in an electric car contains about 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of cobalt, though some varieties use less than 5 kilograms.
In a report by Word Finance in 2015, DRC was described as being “at one of the best points in its history” and its President (Joseph Kabila) was praised for the strides he had made in improving the business climate in the country.
Unfortunately recent conflict and civil strife may have set back some of the strides that had been ushered in this new era of growth and prosperity. It may very well cripple DRCs opportunity to become one of Africa’s economic superpowers if the situation and country’s future is not handled properly.