Swedish battery manufacturer Northvolt has expressed its intention to explore cobalt sourcing from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a crucial component in electric vehicle battery production. The company has conducted trials, examined work processes, and compared plans to enhance social and environmental sustainability, with the goal of establishing long-term partnerships. Chief Environmental Officer Emma Nehrenheim mentioned in a Reuters phone interview that she would feel comfortable engaging in sourcing agreements within the year but did not specify a definite timeframe.
Stakeholders had approached Northvolt, urging the company to directly engage with miners and other parties to improve working conditions in the economically challenged African country. Nehrenheim emphasized the strategic importance of finding high-quality and reliable materials at an affordable cost, expressing the company's desire for the DRC to become part of its supply chain. Currently, Northvolt obtains cobalt from Australia and other countries.
The DRC is the world's leading cobalt supplier, with a significant portion produced by artisanal miners working in harsh conditions. Northvolt has been in discussions with local stakeholders involved in both large-scale mining and artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM). While the company is not ready to source ASM cobalt, it has joined the Fair Cobalt Alliance, which seeks to improve safety in artisanal mines, reduce environmental impact, and establish suitable working conditions for miners.
Although electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers have been adopting non-cobalt battery chemistries like lithium-iron-phosphate, over two-thirds of the EV battery market still relies on cobalt for its energy density, safety, and performance attributes, according to The Cobalt Institute. Northvolt, having secured billions of dollars for building factories in Europe and North America, holds contracts exceeding $55 billion with various carmakers.