Published: Thu, February 22, 2018
Science | By Cecil Little

Apple in talks to buy cobalt directly from miners

Apple in talks to buy cobalt directly from miners

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.

Apple's business foresight will always give it an advantage in the industry, with the company reportedly being in talks in purchasing Cobalt directly from miners. 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 is seeking contracts to secure several thousand metric tons of cobalt a year for five years or longer, according to one of the people, declining to be named as the discussions are confidential. One source told Bloomberg that the iPhone maker first started the discussion on the cobalt deals past year, but that there are chances that talks may not go anywhere right now.

Apple is not the only company seeking long-term cobalt supply deals: BMW has been seeking its own 10-year deal for its electric vehicle program.

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Currently, 55,400 tons of cobalt - or a quarter of global cobalt production - are used for smartphones, electric cars and other lithium-ion battery productions, according to Darton Commodities, a company that specializes in procurement, financing and distribution of cobalt. Carmakers are also racing to lock up cobalt contracts as they prepare to make more electric vehicles.

An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

DRC's near-monopoly position in cobalt mining has been fraught with ethical and economic issues, most notably child labor in the mines. Relying on anonymous sources, Bloomberg reports that Apple is in talks to buy long-term supplies of the metal.

"The problem has nothing to do with the amount of cobalt in the ground but rather the number of mines now producing cobalt", said Trent Mell, CEO of First Cobalt Corp, the world biggest cobalt exploration company.

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According to report by Amnesty International in 2016, close 60 percent of the world's cobalt supply comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo mined by approximately 20 percent under-aged children with hand.

Further, the report noted that during 2017, lithium-ion batteries deployed in the portable consumer electronics products accounted for roughly 72% of total cobalt consumed in the lithium-ion batteries.

Industry sources said Apple had spoken to miners such as Glencore, a top producer, which said late last year it would produce around 39,000 tonnes of cobalt this year.

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