Blockchain solution to tracking ethically sourced cobalt

The metals and mining companies CMOC, Eurasian Resources Group (ERG), Glencore as well as the battery material supplier Umicore are testing the blockchain solution “Re|Source” as part of a pilot project to “track responsibly produced cobalt from the mine to the electric car”.

Blockchain technology is seen as a proven way to create transparency in supply chains. Specifically, it builds a reliable data network and thus significantly increases traceability in the supply chain, as information about the origin of the material cannot be changed unnoticed.

The solution now unveiled by the aforementioned consortium is due to be rolled out in 2022. It is “a unique industry partnership between the most important companies in the EV supply chain”, says the accompanying press release. In addition to the four aforementioned groups, an unnamed “global EV pioneer” and “one of the world’s leading battery manufacturers” are also said to be on board. The pilot project to test the system will run until the end of 2021.

The Re|Source initiative was initially launched by CMOC, ERG and Glencore in 2019. It was later joined by Umicore and the two unnamed companies. According to the consortium, the solution uses blockchain as well as other technologies such as so-called zero-knowledge proofs to link digital flows with physical material flows on site. It integrates a number of industrial standards such as ICMM, RMI, IRMA, CIRAF1 and Copper Mark, it says, and is designed to be used by a wide range of industry players. Blockchain specialist Kryha from Amsterdam is involved in the project as a technology partner.

As the initiators of the project point out, Re|Source will also be aligned with the Battery Passport project of the Global Battery Alliance (GBA). The Battery Passport is intended to act as a seal for fairly produced batteries. The aim is for consumers to receive much more information about the production of batteries, for example when buying an electric car. With the Battery Passport, as well as with Re|Source, the participating companies want to counter the criticism that repeatedly arises about the production of batteries for electric cars.

Benedikt Sobotka, CEO of ERG and co-chair of the Global Battery Alliance, expresses that piloting the Re|Source solution “brings us one step closer to unlocking the significant potential of batteries while strengthening the transparency and sustainability of battery materials throughout the value chain”.

Sun Ruiwen, CEO of CMOC adds that against the backdrop of the global energy transition and China’s pledge to be carbon neutral by 2060, the battery industry was expanding rapidly. “A transparent and responsible supply chain that brings all stakeholders together with this collective effort will boost end-user confidence in cobalt as a raw material.”

Finally, Ivan Glasenberg, CEO of Glencore, points out that traceability alone is not enough, however. “But traceability is not enough on its own, it must be part of a wider industry effort to bring improvements to the entire cobalt supply chain.”

Awareness of the problem of cobalt mining is growing among manufacturers worldwide. While some, like BMW, are moving to mining areas outside the Congo, others are focusing on their own investments in blockchain technology. Fundamentally, much of the industry is striving to reduce the amount of cobalt in batteries in order to reduce their dependence on this costly and critical element. Panasonic, for example, announced that it will launch a cobalt-free version of its 2170 battery cells for Tesla “in two to three years”.

OEMs with their own blockchain initiative include Volvo Cars. The company invested in blockchain specialist Circulor last year. Since 2019, Volvo has also had agreements in place with CATL and LG Chem and their respective appointed blockchain specialists. While Circulor and Oracle are running blockchain throughout CATL’s supply chain, LG Chem’s Responsible Sourcing Blockchain Network (RSBN) is implementing the technology together with RCS Global and IBM.

With reporting by Cora Werwitzke, France.


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