Assuaging concerns over the traceability of extracted material, Volvo Cars said it will use blockchain technology to trace the origin of cobalt used in its batteries in an effort to avoid supplies produced under unethical conditions. The company has revealed its first fully electric car, the XC40 Recharge, in October.
The blue metallic element, also categorised as conflict mineral, is used in significant quantities to make lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars, but half the world’s supply of it comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a war-torn land in which forced labour and child labour is common.
While the mineral is evacuated mostly by industrial mines, what adds to the complexity is that about 17 per cent is dug by miners using their hands, operating in the south-eastern Katanga region, before being illegally traded. At that point, it becomes difficult to distinguish from the ethically mined cobalt.
“We have always been committed to an ethical supply chain for our raw materials,” said Martina Buchhauser, head of procurement at Volvo Cars, adding traceability of cobalt is one of the main sustainability challenges faced by carmakers.
The Swedish carmaker, owned by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, buys batteries from China’s CATL and LG Chem of South Korea, and has signed a deal with the suppliers to start tracing cobalt this year. The blockchain technology stores transaction data that can’t be changed, and it is increasingly used to provide provenance for commodities, including tungsten and diamonds, whose extraction has been linked to human-rights violations and dangerous working conditions.