Published on November 19th, 2017 | by Cynthia Shahan0
Cobalt, Ontario (Mining Ghost Town) May Be Brought To Life Thanks To EV Batteries
November 19th, 2017 by Cynthia Shahan
Ever since the release of The Economist‘s video about the coming electric car age and 2018 being a tipping point, I’m more interested in cobalt and have read about the problems with cobalt mining. We all want particulate-free fresh air and zero CO2 emissions. It’s time to lose the tailpipe and get up to date with battery-powered cars. The driving force is technological progress with batteries. “The good news is that technology will march on regardless. Batteries will get better, cheaper, and more abundant. Samsung SDI, LG Chem, Panasonic, SK Innovation, Kreisel, and other will keep improving EV batteries to win more deals, and the EV market will improve and grow, as it has been.” But what will these batteries be made of, and where will we get the resources/materials?
Cobalt is often seen as essential for all those efficient batteries. One earlier post from CleanTechnica touches on my concerns. It cautioned, “If the ‘clean’ image of plug-in electric vehicles is to be maintained with mass adoption, then auto manufacturers will need to be very careful where key commodities are ultimately being sourced from, and what the working conditions are like as regards extraction and refining.”
When it comes to cobalt, it seems EV manufacturers, battery manufacturers, and EV buyers are getting into the clouded and complex political mix in Congo and China, which are major cobalt producers today. Neither government is above or beyond concerning conditions for workers. As Bloomberg explains, identifying a good and humane source of cobalt is a challenge.
And yet, even if I went back to my bicycle, I admit I’d opt for an electric bike — so it’s time to read more, investigate more, and speak up more if we care about worker treatment but still want those magical EV batteries that provide fresh air and zero emissions.
“More than half of the world’s supply of the refined cobalt chemicals used to make the rechargeable power units comes from China, which gets 90 percent of its cobalt from Congo,” Bloomberg reports.
On to Canada. There may be a cobalt rush going on in a small mining town in Canada that made its economy in the past through silver mining but “happens” to be named Cobalt, Ontario.
Talking cobalt and Canada, Danielle Bochove’s piece for Bloomberg describes the once bustling silver mining community. Booming in the early 1900s, Cobalt slowly turned almost to a ghost town. Once again, due to mining, the town could come alive. Cobalt’s mayor hopes for a restorative, sustainable shift. An economic shift is likely with cobalt mining thanks to a demand for EV batteries.
Presently with a population 1,100, the quiet town shows a landscape and commerce marked only by the remnants of a silver boom of more than a century ago. “A mine headframe still protrudes from the roof of the bookstore, which was previously a grocery. The butcher used to toss unwanted bones down an abandoned 350-foot shaft in the middle of the shop floor and keep meat cool in its lowered mine cage.”
Cobalt’s silver mines closed just about 30 years ago in the quiet town 500 kilometers (300 miles) north of Toronto. “The whitish element (which ‘blooms’ pink when exposed to air) was initially ignored by the area’s prospectors and later mined mainly as a by-product of silver. Now, global demand for cobalt, a component in batteries used to power electric cars for automakers from Tesla Inc. to Volkswagen AG, is changing the game.” Yes, indeed, we could see a cobalt rush in Cobalt, and perhaps more of Canada, as companies search out critical materials for our minimalist Teslas.
“Two years ago, if you had a cobalt property, you couldn’t give it away. All of a sudden, within six months, everything changed,” Gino Chitaroni, a local prospector and geologist, told a reporter.
“Anybody who has cobalt outside the DRC is in a better situation because carmakers are very worried about their supply chains,” said Roger Bell, director of mining research at Hannam & Partners in London. Bell believes the amount of cobalt being used in electric cars could easily double in the next eight to 15 years. “Even in the most conservative assumptions, you’re looking at maybe a 20 percent gap between supply and demand for cobalt by 2025.”
Of course, this is driving investment in companies involved in cobalt mining in the region. “First Cobalt Corp., a Canadian miner exploring in the Cobalt area, has soared 90 percent this year. Cobalt 27 Capital Corp., another miner, based in British Columbia, has jumped almost 600 percent. Neither company has any revenue.”
The Congo is a conflict risk. The cobalt miners are not working in humane conditions. The country is recovering from a brutal civil war that put a horrific end to millions of lives. Credible sources such as Amnesty International bring a lack of confidence about the Congo. Canada breathes fresher hope of sustainable and shared growth for investors and workers alike. Plus, EVs just need the cobalt.
I’m reminded of investigating chocolate and tea — Fair Trade and Equal Exchange. Yes, I’ll buy an Equal Exchange chocolate bar for 3 to 5 times the cost of another that does not show the same quality of treatment of the cacao harvesters.