Cobalt is rapidly becoming the kryptonite of the electric vehicle revolution.
The lustrous metal has been a critical part of lithium ion batteries since they were developed and commercialized in the 1980s and 1990s. But cobalt is relatively scarce, and mostly the byproduct of copper and nickel mining. Moreover, the boom in cobalt demand has fueled a rise in child labor and dangerous working conditions for small-scale miners in the cobalt-rich Congo.
"Cobalt is considered the highest material supply chain risk for electric vehicles in the short and medium term," according to the U.S. Department of Energy, which is funding research and development on alternatives. "The United States does not have large reserves for cobalt, and the extraction and early-stage processing is concentrated in a small number of countries."