The rising popularity of electric vehicles and other technology caused a surge in demand for cobalt, a metal that is mostly found in Africa, where miners are reportedly working in horrific conditions.
The growing market for electric-powered automobiles, smartphones and other high-tech devices has made for unintended consequences halfway around the world. Such products — which operate on lithium-ion batteries — typically require cobalt, a chemical element found within the earth’s crust. The metal is becoming increasingly associated with the “blood diamond” vernacular.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, a central African country, is where the vast majority of cobalt is currently mined. While the Congo has largely profited off the metal, international observers have expressed concern over the working conditions of cobalt miners. Activists have decried inhumane working conditions African cobalt miners are enduring. The precarious situation of depending on an unstable country for a needed resource has also spurred buyers to look elsewhere around the globe. (RELATED: Residents Are Worried A Solar Array Could HURT The Environment)
Peter Faguy, a senior manager within the Department of Energy, used the term “blood cobalt” when describing the situation during a June speech in Washington, D.C., according to Axios. Faguy suggested the removal of cobalt from lithium-ion batteries was a morality issue.
The Department of Energy (DOE) is researching ways to do just that.
The DOE is investing in research being conducted in Lawrence Berkeley and Argonne — two different national laboratories. Argonne is looking into whether cobalt can be switched with nickel, a metal that can achieve high energy, but hasn’t proven stable enough for commercial use. Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley are examining the possibility of designing a battery made with disordered rock salt.
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