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By Supantha Mukherjee
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Swedish battery maker Northvolt is looking to source cobalt, used to make chemicals for electric vehicle batteries, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the company said on Friday.
The company has trialled material, studied work processes and compared plans to improve both social and environmental sustainability with the aim to find long-term partners.
“I would feel comfortable signing something this year in terms of engagement in sourcing,” Chief Environmental Officer Emma Nehrenheim said in a phone interview with Reuters. She did not give a definite timeframe.
Northvolt said it was approached by stakeholders asking for the company to engage directly with miners and other parties to improve working conditions in the impoverished African country.
“It’s strategically important for us to find really good material and to find that in a relationship that is reliable, and affordable,” Nehrenheim said. “We want DRC to be part of our supply chain.”
Northvolt currently sources cobalt from Australia and other countries.
Congo is the world’s largest cobalt supplier where up to a fifth of its production is generated by artisanal miners working in squalid and dangerous conditions with little if any pricing power for their hard-won ore.
Northvolt said it has been in talks with local stakeholders participating in both large-scale mining and artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM).
The company said it was not ready to source ASM cobalt but has joined the Fair Cobalt Alliance, which aims to make artisanal mines safer, minimise their environmental impact and create suitable working conditions for miners.
Electric vehicle (EV) makers have been embracing non-cobalt battery chemistries such as lithium-iron-phosphate, but more than two-thirds of the EV battery market uses cobalt for its energy density, safety and performance attributes, according to The Cobalt Institute.
Northvolt has raised billions of dollars to build factories across Europe and North America, and has more than $55 billion worth of contracts from carmakers.
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(Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee; Editing by Susan Fenton)