06 December, 2018

BMW joins pilot project to improve cobalt mining conditions

German vehicle manufacturer BMW has entered into a joint pilot project with a number of other technology companies to improve conditions for cobalt miners.

Cobalt is an important material for electric vehicle (EV) batteries. However, there are concerns that the mining practices in the Democratic Republic of Congo are not in the best shape, with concerns in the areas of environment, health and safety, and human rights.

BMW joins BASF SE, Samsung SDI and Samsung Electronics in the joint cobalt pilot project. The firms will work together with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and will aim to improve artisanal mining working conditions, as well as living conditions for surrounding communities. The scope of the project will span over one pilot mine within the next three years, and the partners will not operate the mine.

In a statement, the carmaker says: ‘This fully privately financed project seeks to pilot an approach to address challenges in artisanal mining. As it is limited to one pilot mine site and the surrounding community, it seeks to contribute to identifying workable solutions that lead to better working conditions at the mine site. If proven effective, these measures could then be scaled up to other legal, artisanal mine sites and enhance systemic challenges in the longer run.’

The world’s largest known reserves of cobalt are found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Industrial mining accounts for approximately 80-85% of Congolese cobalt production, with artisanal mining operations producing the remaining 15-20%.

This is the first time partners from automotive, chemical and consumer electronics industries have come together in a project on the ground to address the challenges of artisanal cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This pilot project builds on a feasibility study jointly conducted by GIZ and BMW Group. Insights gained from visits to several artisanal mines, stakeholder interviews and surveys of miners and community members were instrumental in shaping this project approach.

This project also contributes to the goals of global initiatives, such as the Global Battery Alliance (GBA), to foster sustainable supply chains.

Last year, BMW announced that it was looking to secure long-term contracts for cobalt supply, with prices expected to rise in coming years as more and more electric vehicles take to the world’s roads. The carmaker plans contracts of between five and ten years.

‘In 2025 we will need up to ten times as much raw materials for the batteries as now,’ said BMW purchasing director Markus Duesmann.