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Electric auto market jumpstarts cobalt prices

22 February, 2018, 01:01 | Author: Janis Wilson
  • Apple may be looking to ensure it has adequate supplies of an essential ingredient of its iPhone batteries.                  James Martin  CNET

Apple said last March it would stop buying cobalt mined by hand in the Congo following reports of child labor and unsafe work conditions. Reports indicate that now about a quarter of all cobalt mined globally is used in smartphones and the demand for cobalt is expected to boom by 2030.

Apple aims to secure contracts for several thousand metric tons of cobalt each year for five year or more, the news agency reported.

Bloomberg says that talks first began more than a year ago, and Apple is seeking a long-term deal - though nothing is yet certain.

The negotiations show that Apple is keen to ensure that cobalt supplies for its iPhone and iPad batteries will be sufficient, as the rapid growth in battery demand for electric vehicles threatens to create a shortage of the raw material. Carmakers are also racing to lock up cobalt contracts as they prepare to make more electric vehicles.

Apple ranks among the top companies for having taken "adequate action" to make sure its cobalt supply chain is safe, according to the organization.

Some materials companies are working on ways to recover and recycle cobalt from old and faulty batteries as alternatives to mining new supplies.

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Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

"In 2017, average annual cobalt prices more than doubled, owing to strong demand from consumers, limited availability of cobalt on the spot market and an increase in metal purchases by investors", the U.S. Geological Survey said in its annual report.

The price per ton of cobalt rose to $82,000 on the London Metal Exchange in mid-February, its highest level since it began tracking the commodity in 2010, and has nearly tripled in value since the beginning of 2016. Cobalt is also mined in China, Russia, Canada and Australia, but we guess that would be more pricey.

Tenke's mines contains one of the world's largest known deposits of copper and cobalt. Two-thirds of the world's cobalt production comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a region not exactly known for its stability.

Such companies are also facing growing public pressure to use cobalt that has not been procured using supply chains that involve human rights violations, something Apple has received scrutiny for in the past.

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