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A Look At Cobalt: Sustainability VS. Problem-Switching

In tandem with the motto of innovation that "new problems bring new solutions," a turn of phrase holds equally true that "new solutions bring new problems." With the International Energy Agency’s ongoing efforts to reduce global energy-related carbon emissions to "Net Zero by 2050," as outlined in their 2021 revised report, 30 countries have pledged to achieve net zero emissions in the coming decades.


By no longer investing in fossil fuel supply projects or coal plants and pledging to halt the sale of new internal combustion engine passenger cars by 2035, the involved countries are beginning to rely more and more on a new resource for powering electric vehicles: cobalt.


Atomic number 27 on the periodic table, cobalt is a transition metal with properties that allow it to prevent overheating and extend battery life when working in tandem with lithium ions. Several kilograms of cobalt is needed to power a single electric vehicle’s battery. With this in mind, effectively decarbonizing the energy sector depends heavily on a shift in transportation-related carbon emissions.


According to the EPA, transportation is the largest contributing category of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, accounting for 27 percent of total emissions. From this perspective, cobalt  seems to be the perfect solution for an alternative, GHG-free fuel source; however, widespread dependence on cobalt introduces various human rights issues and environmental concerns.


Producing an estimated 60%–70% of the world’s cobalt supply in 2021, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)  relies on what is essentially modern-day slave labour across its mines. In his new book, "Cobalt Red," Harvard researcher Siddhartha Kara acknowledges the importance of cobalt as a sustainable resource and calls for mass reform to the cobalt supply chain.


True sustainability relies not only on the abundance of a resource but also on an entirely sustainable industry from production to transportation to consumption. With freelance workers, including children, working for dollar wages in hazardous conditions in the DRC, cobalt acquired by such means cannot truly be considered a sustainable resource.


Another major factor that impedes our ability to steadily rely on cobalt is the effect of certain mining practices on the surrounding environment. During common mining practices, pollutants enter the air and water in the form of pulverized rock dust and other substances that are toxic if consumed. Although many people are familiar with the rising role of cobalt in clean energy, these and other issues related to the overall global market are often unaddressed; however, an emerging industry leader is slowly transforming industry standards.


After buying Freeport Cobalt in 2021, Jervois Global took a major step towards its goal of becoming "the leading global supplier of responsibly sourced cobalt and nickel materials to serve both the battery and chemicals markets and to provide a secure, reliable supply to customers in the face of geopolitical and other risks." This up-and-coming supplier has an unparalleled dedication to ethical sustainability, from the labour in their affiliated mines to the social and environmental impacts of each location on its host community, as outlined in their 2021 sustainability report.


Most recently, Jervois opened North America’s only primary cobalt mine in Idaho’s Salmon River Mountains, but only after establishing various sustainability agreements with affiliated communities, governments, and partners. Adhering to four key pillars of sustainability, Jervois has Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) standards that span all of its global locations, but the company’s commitment to sustainability does not stop there.


Partnering with local organizations like the Idaho Conservation League (ICL) prior to opening the Idaho Cobalt Operations (ICO), Jervois ensured that community voices were elevated as the most informed sources in the surrounding area. This included a commitment to the community’s prioritization of conservation and biodiversity concerns, such as the wildlife protection efforts mitigated by the Upper Salmon Conservation Action Program.


This partnership is merely one of the countless community agreements that Jervois has formed on its road to transforming the ethics of the cobalt industry. While changes in resource dependency shake global markets to their core, new problems have new solutions when industry leaders have the desire to listen to their supporting communities.

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Tags: #sustainability #fossilfuel #resources #coal #congo #idaho #cobalt #jervois #alternativefuel

1 comment

2 weeks, 5 days ago by Amelia

Thank you Informative and well written article

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