BMW launches cobalt mining project in DR Congo

19 September 2019

BMW launches cobalt mining project in DR Congo

19 September 2019

BMW Group, BASF SE, Samsung SDI and Samsung Electronics have launched the “Cobalt for Development” pilot project, aimed at improving working conditions at a cobalt mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Cobalt is a key component in the production of batteries for electronic devices and electric vehicles. More than 60% of cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has raised fears among automakers over the security of supply.

Sustainable sourcing

The companies from the electronics, automotive and chemical industries have commissioned the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH to assess how living and working conditions in artisanal cobalt mining and in the surrounding communities can be improved. Together with authorities in the province of Lualaba, the project has selected a legal artisanal mine site near to Kolwezi to pilot the approach.

‘Sustainability is an important aspect of our corporate strategy and plays a key role in expanding electro-mobility. We are fully aware of our responsibility: Cobalt and other commodities must be extracted and processed under ethically responsible conditions,’ emphasises Dr Andreas Wendt, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Purchasing and Supplier Network.

‘If the project is a success, these approaches can be transferred to other small, non-industrial mines over the long term,’ added Dr Wendt.

During the upcoming months, the pilot project will focus on analysing occupational and environmental risks to develop and implement responsible mining practices. Local partners such as the artisanal mining cooperative will participate from the beginning in developing and implementing these measures to strengthen local ownership and sustainability of the approach. In the nearby community, the focus will be to improve access to education, as well as financial literacy and alternative incomes for its residents.

Dr Hans-Ulrich Engel, Chief Financial Officer and Vice Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF SE said: ‘BASF is committed to a responsible and sustainable global supply chain for cobalt. Although BASF does not procure cobalt from artisanal mines, we actively support "Cobalt for Development" as it aims to look for new ways to improve the sustainability of the supply chain. This project also contributes to the goals of the Global Battery Alliance of which BASF is a founding member. Cooperation with partners along the value chain drives change and increases the impact at all stages in the production.’

Securing supply

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 10 years.

‘In 2025 we will need up to 10 times as much raw materials for the batteries as now,’ said BMW purchasing director Markus Duesmann at the time. Duesmann has since resigned from BMW to become the CEO of Audi in 2020.

Back in 2017, Volkswagen Group (VW) failed in its attempt to secure a long-term supply of cobalt from one of the world’s leading suppliers of the material.