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Mercedes drives battery suppliers to sustainable cobalt and lithium

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

Daimler says the company is taking a comprehensive approach across the whole battery technology chain from research and development to series production for sustainable lithium and cobalt for battery cells. Shockingly, there is no cobalt mine that complies to international standards, and the company aims to eliminate cobalt in solid state cells. 

“In the coming generations of battery cells, the cobalt content is already being reduced to less than ten percent. In the future, we want to use post-lithium-ion technologies with new material compositions to completely dispense with materials such as cobalt,” said Markus Schäfer, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler and Mercedes-Benz and responsible for Daimler Group Research and Mercedes-Benz Cars COO. “The further optimization of recyclability and its implementation at Mercedes-Benz is also part of the holistic battery strategy,” he said.

Mercedes is working to the Standard for Responsible Mining developed by the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) as one of the key criteria for supplier decisions and supplier contracts within raw material supply chains. The standard is in the early stage of adoption by the industry, a process the company seeks to accelerate as there are currently no cobalt mines certified by IRMA.

Mercedes-Benz is working with IRMA and consultancy RCS Global on a step-by-step approach for dealing with particularly challenging local situations. This approach will be taken with a limited number of cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, auditing them against a series of specific sets of requirements in the IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining. In addition to the human rights aspects, the environmentally friendly mining of raw materials and other key aspects relating to the consequences of industrial mining are examined.

In 2018 Mercedes-Benz commissioned RCS Global to establish transparency over the complex cobalt supply chains behind battery cells and to audit these at every stage. More than 120 suppliers were identified and 60 audits were conducted after a corresponding risk assessment.

In the company’s battery contracts going forwards, partners will need to commit to working within their own supply chain to source exclusively from raw material suppliers who are audited in accordance with the IRMA mining standard. The supply chains will in the future also be regularly monitored.

Countries of origin that are viewed as high-risk are deliberately not generally excluded as sources of supply. Instead, the approach taken here aims to improve the local situation for the people working there and to strengthen their rights. This follows the recommendation of non-governmental organizations, governments and other relevant interest groups not to withdraw from high-risk countries.

The aim is to encourage the local economy while at the same time ensuring that higher standards in relation to the protection of human rights are established.

“We have had the supply chains for our Mercedes-Benz electric vehicle fleet audited in line with OECD guidance, all the way back to the mine, even though we don’t source cobalt directly ourselves,” said Schäfer. “Based on the insights gained, we will instruct our battery suppliers to only source cobalt and lithium from certified mining sites in the future. With this, we even go a step further and will ensure our sourcing is from mining sites compliant with the mining standard of the IRMA. This way, in addition to child labour and a range of other social concerns, environmental risks in the mining of raw materials can also be minimized. By doing so, we are paving the way for clean raw materials,” he said.

“Our aspiration is very clear: we want our products to contain only raw materials that have been mined and produced without human rights violations,” said Renata Jungo Brüngger, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Mercedes-Benz, responsible for Integrity and Legal Affairs. “If there are any indications of risk, we take another, closer look at the supply chain. This involves us going beyond the direct suppliers and creating transparency, if necessary all the way back to the mine.”

With regard to lithium, Mercedes-Benz is also working to ensure that the raw material is sustainably extracted and that the IRMA mining standard will be enshrined in the supply contracts. In order to improve the situation in the mining areas at the same time, Daimler is in contact with development agencies and non-governmental organizations for possible projects on site.

The new standards for the responsible procurement of raw materials apply only in the first step for cobalt and lithium. Daimler says it plans to extend the procedure to other raw materials, initially to other battery raw materials. 

www.daimler.com

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