Electric car manufacturers are transitioning away from cobalt, a key component in lithium-ion batteries.
In a nutshell:
– The use of cobalt in electric vehicle batteries has been raised as a concern, given the worker exploitation in mining locations such as the Congo.
– While electric car batteries do use cobalt, the largest use of cobalt comes from the portable consumer electronics industry
– Electric vehicle manufacturers, led by Tesla, are transitioning away from their reliance on cobalt.
As electric vehicles (EVs) gain popularity, you’ve likely heard increased public debate about their pros and cons. While it’s exciting that people are talking about EVs, there is a lot of misinformation out there, including use of cobalt in EV batteries.
Cobalt in today’s tech.
A rare earth element, cobalt has a long industrial history with a variety of uses. Today it is a metal found in many products ranging from aircraft engines to lithium-ion batteries, including those in electric cars. The largest use of cobalt is in portable consumer electronics like cell phones, laptop computers, and tablets, which are all powered by lithium-ion batteries.
Although cobalt is a byproduct of the production of other metals, it also mined, primarily in Australia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s well documented that cobalt mining often involves unethical and unsafe labor practices in places such as the Congo. Thus, it is reasonable for consumers to look at the cobalt in all of their products when making purchasing decisions.
What’s next for cobalt?
While it is true that cobalt is found in the lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles, there is some good news. Electric vehicle manufacturers are transitioning away from cobalt. In fact, Tesla’s current vehicle batteries contain less than three percent cobalt and the company has announced that their next generation of batteries will be cobalt-free.
The negative human and environmental consequences of cobalt mining are indeed real and well-documented. However, a serious solution to the exploitation of mine workers involves a comprehensive national trade policy and an economy-wide effort to curtail the use of cobalt.
EVs play a role in Minnesota’s clean energy future.
Here in Minnesota, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency reports that transportation is now our state’s largest source of climate change pollution. Electric vehicles have the potential to dramatically reduce these emissions, much of which come from light duty cars and trucks. Thankfully, Minnesota is working to fully realize this potential; the Walz Administration’s Clean Cars Minnesota initiative is a critical step to ensure that Minnesotans have access to newer electric vehicle models as they become available.
As a thoughtful consumer, it is important to weigh all impacts of our decisions. Clean energy and clean transportation solutions are necessary if we hope to mitigate the worst effects of climate change in Minnesota. With our state’s winter climate warming faster than any of the lower 48 states, we have much to gain from a transition to a clean energy future.