Volvo blockchain shines a light on Cobalt mining 'dark side'


12 Nov
12Nov

As ever more companies and individuals acquiesce to a bright and shiny electric vehicle future, there is rising concern about a dark side to the new technology. For now at least Cobalt is the cathode material of choice in lithium-ion batteries. And most of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a country racked by political instability, legal opacity and at its darkest, child labor in its mines.

This concentration of supply risk, both in terms of physical units and ethical sourcing, isn’t going away any time soon and could even worsen. The DRC accounted for 66,000 tonnes of global mined cobalt production of 123,000 tonnes last year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s the official supply line. There is also an artisanal stream of production, some of it using child labor and some of it controlled by insurgent militias. Speaking at a London Metal Exchange (LME) seminar in October, Tony Southgate, head of cobalt marketing at Eurasian Resources Group, warned that “it’s almost inevitable there are batteries containing cobalt from child labor in the DRC".

Volvo Cars will become the first car maker to implement global traceability of cobalt used in its batteries by applying blockchain technology. The announcement follows the reveal last month of the company’s first fully electric car, the XC40 Recharge.

Traceability of raw materials used in the production of lithium-ion batteries, such as cobalt, is one of the main sustainability challenges faced by car makers. Volvo Cars is committed to full traceability, ensuring that customers can drive electrified Volvos knowing the material for the batteries has been sourced responsibly.

Blockchain technology, which establishes a transparent and reliable shared data network, significantly boosts transparency of the raw material supply chain because the information about the material’s origin cannot be changed undetected.

Volvo Cars has now reached an agreement with its two global battery suppliers, CATL of China and LG Chem of South Korea, and leading global blockchain technology firms to implement traceability of cobalt, starting this year.

Technology firms Circulor and Oracle operate the blockchain technology across CATL’s supply chain following a successful pilot earlier this summer, while the Responsible Sourcing Blockchain Network (RSBN), together with responsible sourcing specialists RCS Global and IBM, is rolling out the technology in LG Chem’s supply chain.

“We have always been committed to an ethical supply chain for our raw materials,” said Martina Buchhauser, Head of Procurement at Volvo Cars. “With blockchain technology, we can take the next step towards ensuring full traceability of our supply chain and minimising any related risks, in close collaboration with our suppliers.”

A blockchain is a digital ledger containing a list of records linked to each other via cryptography. Within supply chains, the technology creates records of transactions which cannot be changed, while also enforcing a common set of rules for what data can be recorded. This allows participants to verify and audit transactions independently.

In this particular case, data in the blockchain includes the cobalt’s origin, attributes such as weight and size, the chain of custody and information establishing that participant’s behavior is consistent with OECD supply chain guidelines*. This approach helps create trust between participants along a supply chain.

Volvo Cars last month launched the XC40 Recharge, the first of an upcoming family of fully electric cars under the Recharge banner. By 2025, it expects half of its global sales to consist of fully electric cars, with the rest hybrids.

Last month, Volvo Cars also launched an ambitious climate plan, which includes a radical reduction of carbon emissions by 40 per cent per vehicle by 2025, as well as a continued commitment to ethical business across its entire operations and supply chain.

CATL and LG Chem are renowned battery manufacturers, both with long and successful track records supplying lithium-ion batteries to the global automotive industry. They fulfil Volvo Cars’ strict sourcing guidelines in terms of technology leadership, responsible supply chains, reduction of carbon emissions and competitive cost models.

The agreements between Volvo Cars, CATL and LG Chem cover the supply of batteries over the coming decade for next-generation Volvo and Polestar models, including the XC40 Recharge.








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