Over the past two years, cobalt has emerged as one of the hottest commodities of the electric-vehicle revolution. The silvery-blue metal, an important component in lithium-ion batteries, has more than doubled in price, making carmakers and tech giants fret about securing their future needs.
The focus on the metal has turned a spotlight on the obscure supply chain that takes cobalt produced in mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Canada or Morocco, and ultimately delivers cobalt-containing batteries to companies from Samsung Electronics Co. to Volkswagen AG. That supply chain is dominated by Chinese companies.
Many of the leading companies that mine cobalt, such as Glencore Plc and Vale SA, are well known. So too, at the other end of the spectrum, are the tech companies and carmakers that buy batteries.
In between them sit companies that refine cobalt ore to make chemicals like cobalt sulphate; companies that combine these chemicals with other metals like nickel and manganese to make the cathode element of a lithium-ion battery; and companies that assemble the cathodes with the other components to make battery cells, and ultimately batteries.