Apple Wants To Buy Cobalt For Rechargeable Batteries Directly From Congolese Miners

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Once an ignored byproduct of copper mining, cobalt has become a star. Supply is limited because miners can’t get it out of the ground fast enough. Demand is driven by the world’s reliance on the rechargeable batteries in our smartphones and the shift toward electric vehicles.

From Quartz. Story by Lynsey Chutel

Apple’s reported move to buy cobalt directly from miners could bring efficiency to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s troubled mining sector, but it will likely only muddle an already murky field.

Cutting out the middleman, Apple reportedly wants to buy cobalt directly from miners, according to a report from Bloomberg on Feb. 21. Relying on anonymous sources, Bloomberg reports that Apple is in talks to buy long-term supplies of the metal. Once an ignored byproduct of copper mining, the demand for cobalt is driven by the world’s reliance on the rechargeable batteries in our smartphones and the shift toward electric vehicles.

The report does not say which miners Apple will be dealing with, and Apple refused to comment on Bloomberg’s story. Glencore, the mining multinational that operates in about 50 countries, has named Apple as one of the main customers it was talking to about cobalt, according to Bloomberg.

Apple and other major cobalt consumers are scurrying to access cobalt resources that are currently limited—not because of the amount of ore available, but because mining companies can’t get it out of the ground fast enough to keep up with everyday demand of rechargeable batteries.

“The problem has nothing to do with the amount of cobalt in the ground but rather the number of mines currently producing cobalt,” said Trent Mell, CEO of First Cobalt Corp, the world biggest cobalt exploration company. “We are in a supply-demand imbalance and it will take miners a few years to catch up.”

Apple’s reported move is neither new or surprising says Ilja Graulich of Madini Minerals, a junior mining company based in Johannesburg with interests in the DRC. By securing their cobalt supply, Apple is doing what big manufacturers have done for years.

“Big corporates will want to make sure that their supply chain is governed properly,” said Graulich, adding that this will likely squeeze out unscrupulous miners. Any junior company associated with the purported deal will have even more reason, and funding, to stay in the troubled DRC.

“What will be interesting is the price—everybody is trying to get into cobalt so (who) will set the price?”

 

Read more at Quartz.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook takes a selfie with students. Photo: Apple