The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), the world’s main source of vital battery ingredient cobalt, is also one of the poorest nations. While it is dominated by huge industrial mines, about one-fifth of its silvery-blue metal is still hand-dug, in often unregulated and dangerous conditions.
Jean-Dominique Takis Kumbo, the head of the new state cobalt buyer, is determined to change that.
His Entreprise Generale du Cobalt (EGC) is to have a monopoly on all hand-dug cobalt in the central African country, giving it power to improve working conditions and potential control of nearly 15 percent of the world’s production.
Takis said he is hoping that is a market share big enough to help influence cobalt prices the way Saudi Arabian Oil Co (Aramco) does with oil, and ultimately boost profit for the state.
“You can’t speak about the oil sector without speaking of Aramco,” Takis, 61, said in an interview. “We believe that EGC will introduce the image and identity of [DR] Congo to the markets for those involved in cobalt.”
DR Congo accounts for nearly 70 percent of the global supply of cobalt used in the lithium-ion batteries that power most electric vehicles.
Cobalt prices have risen almost 70 percent in the past year and now trade at more than US$50,000 a tonne on the London Metal Exchange.
The state company is to produce about 8,000 tonnes of cobalt contained in hydroxide form this year, with output expanding “exponentially” in the years to come, Takis said.
EGC is partnering with trading house Trafigura Group in a five-year deal to finance the creation and control of artisanal mining zones, ore-purchasing stations and costs related to buying, processing and delivering cobalt hydroxide to end buyers.
However, there is a long way to go for that plan to become a reality. Trafigura is still assessing the investment required to prepare the first accredited mining site.
“We foresee a considerable body of work to bring the site up to a level that meets the newly launched EGC standard,” a Trafigura spokesperson said on Thursday.
While artisanal miners’ contribution to Congo’s cobalt production has at times reached 20 percent, it dropped significantly last year amid low prices, the impact of COVID-19 and expanded industrial output, Andries Gerbens, a director of Darton Commodities, said by telephone on Friday.
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