Its name conjures an image of vivid deep blues. But when cobalt is dug out of the ground in ore form, there’s barely a hint of the rich hue it lends its name to. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which produces more than half of the world’s supply, it takes the form of heterogenite, a dull brownish mineral that could easily be mistaken for small clods of dirt.
But people die for this mineral. Children suffer for it. Livelihoods, educations, neighborhoods, environments and personal safety are sacrificed for it.
That’s because cobalt is hot property. It’s used in medicine for imaging, cancer radiotherapy and sterilizing medical equipment. It’s in the rechargeable batteries in smartphones and laptops. And it’s a component of the lithium ion batteries that power electric vehicles and store energy from solar, wind and other renewable sources, giving it an essential role in the transition from fossil fuels to green energy. One report forecasts that global demand for cobalt will increase 60% above 2017 levels by 2025, with batteries projected to make up more than half of that use.
As interest in cobalt has grown, so has interest in ensuring that it’s ethically produced, minimizing harm to the people who mine it and the environment from which it’s removed.
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