International project launched to use blockchain to track DRC Cobalt

US-based automobile manufacturer Ford, US technology major IBM, South Korean cathode manufacturer LG Chem and China-based Huayou Cobalt have teamed up to launch a pilot blockchain project to track supplies of cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Overseen by sourcing group RCS Global, the project aims to aid manufacturers in ensuring that the cobalt used in lithium-ion batteries, a key component in electric vehicles, is free of human rights abuses, and that financial resources are not used to further conflict in the politically volatile region.

Consumers and investors are putting increasing pressure on companies to ensure that the minerals sourced are free of human rights abuses. Blockchain offers a shared record of data held by a network of individual computers instead of a single party.

As minerals are usually combined with metals from several sources as they are smelted, it can be difficult for companies to trace their origins. This project aims to enforce best practice through guidelines drawn up by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The project, which has been underway since December and is expected to be completed by the middle of the year, was announced this week. Beginning with cobalt in the DRC, the project will track the journey of the mineral from the mine and smelter to LG Chem’s cathode and battery plant in South Korea and from there on to a Ford facility in the US, reported Reuters.

“Blockchain has been proven to be a very effective technology in raising the bar.”

According to RCS, the IBM blockchain platform could later be used to include other minerals. Artisanal miners will also be encouraged to join the network so that they can participate in ethical sourcing.

IBM stated that it said it was looking at the potential of tapping chemical analysis using artificial intelligence in order to track the origin cobalt. This will ensure clean cobalt was not smelted with minerals that have not been ethically sourced.

IBM’s mining and industrial sector business general manager Manish Chawla told Reuters: “There is no fool-proof method, but you have to keep the ball moving forward, to keep raising the level of accuracy.

“Blockchain has been proven to be a very effective technology in raising the bar.”

With demand for electric vehicles and electronic devices set to increase, demand for cobalt is expected to rise in parallel. The DRC is by far the world’s largest producer of cobalt, producing 64,000 metric tonnes in 2017, but the country has been affected by political and social instability.

This article first appeared on Mining Technology.

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