How China controls cobalt in the Congo, and what that means for electric vehicles

Business & Technology

“We’re realizing that the Congo is to [electric vehicles] what Saudi Arabia is to the internal combustion engine,” said a chief executive of a mineral exploration company to the Wall Street Journal (paywall). That’s because cobalt — of which the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the world’s biggest producer — is an essential ingredient in rechargeable, lithium-ion batteries that power phones, laptops, drones, and electric cars.

  • “There is a world-wide race to lock up the supply chain for cobalt,” says the WSJ, and this is set to intensify as electric cars are popularized.
  • Chinese imports of cobalt from Congo totaled $1.2 billion in the first nine months of 2017, compared with only $3.2 million by India, the number two importer.
  • Child labor is a serious ethical problem plaguing the cobalt supply chain.

In other news related to China’s demand for electric vehicle batteries, Bloomberg says that “China’s government is leaning toward allowing provinces continue with local subsidies for electric vehicles to sustain the rising demand for new-energy automobiles,” a reversal of an earlier decision to cancel such incentives.