And the dirty little secret of EVs is…cobalt. The metallic element is used in significant quantities in EV batteries. Unfortunately, about half the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a war-torn land in which working conditions are bad, and child labor is common. In 2014, as many as 40,000 children worked in mines in the DRC, many of them mining cobalt, according to UNICEF.
Some battery makers are working to reduce their use of costly and controversial cobalt – South Korean cell makers SK Innovation and LG Chem will soon be selling NCM 811 cells, which use half as much cobalt as their current NCM 622 cells. Automakers are also hoping to develop new sources of cobalt in Canada.
However, the BMW Group has concluded that “risks related to environmental standards and human rights cannot be completely eliminated in cobalt mining,” and has set a goal of improving the transparency of its battery cell supply chain and improving conditions in the DRC.
BMW is one of many companies that participate in the Responsible Cobalt Initiative, which seeks to implement measures to overcome social and environmental risks in the cobalt supply chain.
By the end of this year, BMW will release information on smelters and countries of origin for its raw materials. It is also working on a feasibility study to explore how the social and ecological situation in the DRC can be improved by sponsoring model mines.
“The BMW Group does not procure any cobalt itself; it only comes into contact with this raw material through the purchase of battery cells,” said Ursula Mathar, head of Sustainability and Environmental Protection at the BMW Group. “However, we are well aware that growing demand for electric vehicles also goes hand-in-hand with a responsibility for the extraction of relevant raw materials, such as cobalt. We aim to establish a transparent and sustainable supply chain that meets the highest standards.”