Emerging Technologies

The price of this element has surged in 2017

An miner carries raw ore at a former industrial copper-cobalt mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Image: REUTERS/Kenny Katombe

Charlotte Beale
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Emerging Technologies

Cobalt is a critical element in lithium-ion batteries, which power smartphones and electric vehicles. As demand for such technology increases, the price of cobalt has soared, more than doubling this year alone. The value of the cobalt market reached $8 billion in 2016, according to Bloomberg.

Image: Quartz

Global sales of electric vehicles rose 63% in 2017, with more than one million estimated to have been sold. Accordingly, demand for lithium-ion batteries is projected to increase by up to seven times over the next decade. The values of other elements used in batteries, including lithium and nickel, are also increasing, while the Bloomberg Commodity Index as a whole has fallen by 4% in 2017.

However, two-thirds of the world’s cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The country’s unstable politics and use of child labour invite scrutiny into the ethics of the element powering our technology-driven lifestyles. Cobalt buyers are already seeking alternate sources, including in Russia, Canada and Australia. Because as transport turns green, demand for cobalt is only going in one direction.

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