Lithium and cobalt : the new gold and silver

The age of motor vehicles and heavy industries was fueled by oil and gas – and in the coming age of electric movement and intelligent industries the fuel will be the lithium, cobalt, nickel and zinc.  If we look at the energy source for the movement, oil is proportional to electricity as a fuel for fuel.

For the fossil-fueled cars the fuel is petrol or gasolene, and these fuels are scarce, non-renewable. It is good news that battery electric vehicles consume electricity that is, theoretically, endless stuff.

But if we look at the scarcity of raw materials that determines the potential maximum market supply of battery electric vehicles, we found that the storage of electricity in these cars requires batteries and the components of these batteries are actually very hard-to-find.

Present-day electric vehicle batteries are either made of nickel oxide hydroxide, lithium cobalt oxide or lithium nickel cobalt aluminum oxide cathods. As with oil, it is still the case that if you are looking for these materials in your garden, you probably will not find much of it. Or if so, then probably you are already tagged a bad guy and have your house bombed to bits by friendly world powers in their pursuit for the betterment of the mankind. (A minute of silence to remember those who accidentally lived there where the oil was hiding in the deep… )

The lithium that never was

So whereby these materials can be extracted? Actually from places with names that sound quite familiar – like Afghanistan, where a 2010 survey found “nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself”according to the then-commander of the United States Central Command, General David H. Petraeus. The “small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists” came to the conclusion that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium” – of course only after the shooting ends. But for the time being the shooting does not really want to end itself and there is a very good reason for it – that is the big boys have not been able to decide yet who gets the loot.

Good news! A trillion dollars woth of stuff is there.

But is there actually any of it? If you take a look at recent statistics of lithium production as of 2018, it does not even mention Afghanistan as being a place where mining is taking place or let alone known lithium reserves are.

What news? There’s nothing to see here, move on!

So which version is true? I trust you to decide 🙂

The cobalt we don’t touch… but don’t ask how we get it

The cobalt is yet another prerequisite for producing high-capacity battery cells that is needed for battery electric vehicles. Cobalt has been used in production of rechargeable batteries, and the advent of electric vehicles and their success with consumers probably has a great deal to do with the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) soaring production.

By 2015, the Democratic Republic of Congo supplied 60% of world cobalt production, 32,000 tons at $20,000 to $26,000 per ton. Recent growth in production could at least partly be due to how low mining production fell during DRC’s very violent civil wars in the early 2000s, or to the changes the country made to its laws to encourage foreign and multinational investment and which bring in a number of big-time investors.

Artisanal mining (that is something like half-naked mud-clad children with hoes) supplied about 25% of the DRC production – according to journalists that can be taken seriously.

The 100,000 cobalt miners in DRC are called “Creuseurs” which is “diggers” in French, for they use hand tools to dig hundreds of feet, with little planning and virtually no safety measures. The price of the Near Field Communication-enabled Lithium-Ion cell are armed coercion by ragtag bands, tunnell collapses,  polluted vicinity, extinction of local wildlife, birth defects and breath difficulties apparently because of the toxic metals associated with mining, and yes the favourite method of any respectable  conflict miner: child labor.

Apparently there are responsible companies who refrain from buying minerals from entities that “aren’t verified to meet its workplace standards“. In fact almost 100% of the cobalt from DRC actually travels to China sharpish, mostly to the Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Company and the Zhejiang Galico Cobalt & Nickel Materials of China, which aren’t industrial companies, just intermediaries, because the cobalt is usually sold en route to Galico, one of the largest chemical salt producers in China.

And that is where the end product could be happily purchased, all clean. Easy does it, yea.

Mukondo Mine: the richest cobalt reserve in the world

Then there is Munkondo Mountains, which houses the mines with possibly the largest reserves of copper and cobalt on the Earth. Yes, it’s also in the DRC, and also in the Katanga region. Katanga is renowned for those familiar with contemporary African history as the region where the issue of Katangan secession is  like the cinder that is burning under the ash for decades.

But now all is peaches and cream (apart from the fact that at times the Mai Mai Kata Katanga rebels simply take over the provincial capital, Lubumbashi) – so a colourful team has been assembled to operate this field of magic ores. Kazakh and Zimbabwean businessmen now act to ensure said workplace standards stay verified, no matter what. And what about the end product? Actually the entire annual production of cobalt travels in concentrate from Mukondo Mountain to Zhejiang Galico Cobalt & Nickel Materials of China – the very company Apple Inc. said to have no more contact with.

But someone’s gotta get. And we do not see any connection between battery electric vehicles’ propagation and the opening of new mining shafts in unstable territories. And we do not recommend it to see –  for anyone with a good heart.

 

 

Sources (for the Sufficient Source Policy of NEW COMPENDiUM, please read HERE):

https://web.archive.org/web/20110514140029/http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/natural_resources/article7149696.ece

https://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/lithium/mcs-2018-lithi.pdf

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/business/batteries/congo-cobalt-mining-for-lithium-ion-battery/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-sight/wp/2018/02/28/the-cost-of-cobalt/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/03/03/apple-cracks-down-further-on-cobalt-supplier-in-congo-as-child-labor-persists/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katanga_Crisis