BMW to stop purchasing Congo cobalt in 2020/21

According to Andreas Wendt, the board member responsible for purchasing at BMW, the company will no longer purchase cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo with the introduction of the fifth generation of electric vehicles from 2020/21.

BMW cites that the demand for cobalt has already decreased due to new technical developments and will continue to decrease. At the same time, there are “enough deposits that have not yet been explored”.

Continued technical development of batteries is of strong interest to the company, who has been cooperating in the area of raw resources for batteries with the German development agency GIZ as well as several other industrial partners. This pilot project is set to continue working over the next three years, focusing on small-scale mining and sustainable living conditions for miners.

The resource has also recently been classified as a strategic resource in Congo, which means the royalties for mining the material have increased, up to a current 10% royalty fee. Additionally, there is rife concern regarding unsafe work conditions for miners as well as the use of child labour.

The interview with Andreas Wendt also points to the battery resources as being a major factor for price stability, as well as leaving open the question of whether BMW will start manufacturing their own battery cells in the future. For the moment, the contract with CATL as the main cell supplier is still the officially going plan. To replace the cobalt sourced from Congo, they expect other materials and resources to be explored in other places as the demand is high. Congo supplies about 60% of the world’s cobalt at the moment, which means that the demand for the metal in next-gen batteries will have to decrease significantly.

Wendt also mentions plans for a battery cell development competence centre which will be opened this summer “to keep the assessment competence in-house”. They will employ 200 employees in the new unit, which will focus on “understanding and accompanying the development of battery cell technology in depth.” (In German, paywall)


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