Sunday, 24 June, 2018

Electric vehicle boom prompts Apple to get serious about securing cobalt

Apple reportedly looking to buy cobalt directly from miners Apple in talks to buy key mineral used in batteries as China secures bulk of global supply
| 22 February, 2018, 01:31

Apple is among the largest consumer of cobalt.

After previously obtaining cobalt through intermediaries, Apple for the first time is in communications with cobalt miners to build long-term partnerships, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.

Apple is reportedly seeking multiyear contracts to lock up its supply of cobalt, an essential ingredient in lithium-ion batteries for smartphones and electric vehicles.

Apple is taking this drastic action out of fear over a cobalt shortage brought on by its increased use in electric cars.

Cobalt prices went ballistic past year, with the metal quoted on the London Metal Exchange ending 2017 at $75,500 per tonne, a 129 percent annual surge sparked by intensifying supply fears and an expected demand spike from battery markets. But by 2030, that figure is expected to skyrocket to over 300,000 tons. While Apple may just stick with relying on its battery manufacturers and scrap the direct buying route, plenty of other companies are going straight to the source. Given the element's increased popularity, however, the iPhone maker has chose to take a more direct role in the cobalt business outside of just being the end-user.


More than 60 percent of cobalt is found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Africa, but more than half of the world's refined company chemicals that are used to build the batteries comes from China, according to a separate Bloomberg article from October. One source told Bloomberg that the iPhone maker first started the discussion on the cobalt deals a year ago, but that there are chances that talks may not go anywhere right now.

Apple is competing with the likes of BMW AG, Volkswagen AG, and Samsung SDI Co.to sign multi-year contracts with cobalt miners. These players would not leave any stone unturned to secure the supply of cobalt in the future as well.

"As a result, the global proven reserves of cobalt are dependent on the economic viability of the relevant copper and nickel mines", cautioned analysts at Natixis.

"The problem has nothing to do with the amount of cobalt in the ground but rather the number of mines now producing cobalt", said Trent Mell, CEO of First Cobalt Corp, the world biggest cobalt exploration company. The price of cobalt has tripled in the last 18 months to $80,000 per metric ton.

"What will be interesting is the price-everybody is trying to get into cobalt so will set the price?" Apple cornered the market so fully that it actually caused several flash drive shortages.

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