BMW leads project for sustainable cobalt mining

November 29, 2018 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Car maker BMW, chemical company BASF, battery maker Samsung SDI and Samsung Electronics have launched a joint pilot project in the Democratic Republic of Congo to encourage environmentally and socially compatible mining of cobalt for batteries for electric vehicles.

The companies have commissioned Bonn, Germany, based development agency Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) to test over a period of three years how working and living conditions in micro-mining can be improved in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The project focuses on a pilot mine in which cobalt is mined using non-industrial methods. The project partners will not be operators of this mine.

The focus of this privately funded pilot project is to test approaches that improve the working and living conditions of mine workers and surrounding communities. If the project is successful, these approaches can be transferred to other non-industrial mines in the long term.

Cobalt is a key element in the production of batteries for the automotive and electronics industries. The world's largest known reserves of this raw material are located in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 80 to 85 % of cobalt extraction in Congo is industrial, 15 to 20 % of extraction is by non-industrial methods. The greatest challenge is to ensure compliance with human rights, environmental, health and safety standards in the non-industrial mining of cobalt.

For the first time, partners from the automotive, chemical and electronics industries have come together to tackle the problems of cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo with a concrete project. The pilot project is based on a feasibility study conducted by GIZ and the BMW Group. The project was planned on the basis of findings from on-site visits, interviews with stakeholders and surveys among mine workers and local residents.

In the long term, the project should also contribute to supporting the goals of global initiatives to promote sustainable supply chains, such as the Global Battery Alliance (GBA).

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