The Congolese cobalt conundrum: The most eligible mineral just got even harder to get

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, the world’s largest cobalt producer, hiked the price of the magic mineral for smartphone and EV companies.


December 5, 2018

The Democratic Republic of the Congo — the central African country that produces the majority of the world’s cobalt — has hiked the price of royalties required to purchase the metal by 3x.

Now, lithium-ion battery barons including Apple, Samsung, BMW, and Volkswagen find themselves saddled with a pricey premium on a mandatory manufacturing material.

If you’ve got it… ruthlessly jack up prices

Since 60% of global cobalt comes from the Congo, mining companies in the DRC knew global buyers had few options. So they did what any self-respecting global commodities trader would do: Increased prices.

After the price of cobalt tripled in just 18 months, major buyers including Apple and Samsung launched direct-to-the-source partnerships with Congolese mining companies this year to ensure continued access to the magic mineral.

Companies are still cuckoo for cobalt 

Since cobalt is a crucial component of the batteries that power both smartphones and electric vehicles, major buyers will have to continue buying the marked-up minerals… at least for now.

Some buyers, like Tesla and Panasonic, have committed to reducing reliance on the “blood diamond of batteries” by investing in the development of alternatives such as solid-state and sodium-ion (instead of lithium) batteries.

But since most scientists believe viable alternatives are still about 10 years away, most big buyers will still be riding the cobalt carousel for a while yet.

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