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Project uses blockchain to track cobalt through the supply chain

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

With Ford Motor Company (Detroit, MI), Huayou Cobalt (Zhejiang, China), IBM (Armonk, NY), chemical company LG Chem (Seoul, South Korea) and global service provider RCS Global, the project includes participants at each major stage of the supply chain from mine to end-user and plans to use blockchain technology to trace and validate ethically sourced minerals. The pilot will be focused on cobalt and explore the creation of an open, industry-wide blockchain platform that could ultimately be used to trace and validate a range of minerals used in consumer products.

Cobalt is in high demand for its use in lithium-ion batteries, which power a wide range of products including laptops, mobile devices, and electric vehicles. According to some reports, demand for the mineral is expected to multiply eightfold by 2026, especially in electric vehicle and consumer applications where the typical electric car battery requires up to 20 pounds of cobalt and a standard laptop requires around one ounce of the mineral.

The blockchain pilot is already underway and seeks to demonstrate how materials in the supply chain are responsibly produced, traded, and processed. For this pilot based on a simulated sourcing scenario, Cobalt produced at Huayou’s industrial mine site in the Democratic Republic of Congo will be traced through the supply chain as it travels from mine and smelter to LG Chem’s cathode plant and battery plant in South Korea, and finally into a Ford plant in the United States.

An immutable audit trail will be created on the blockchain, which will include corresponding data to provide evidence of the cobalt production from mine to end manufacturer. Participants in the network will be validated against responsible sourcing standards developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Traditionally, miners, smelters, and consumer brands rely on third-party audits to establish compliance with generally accepted industry standards. Coupled with these assessments, blockchain technology offers a network of validated participants and immutable data that can be seen by all permissioned network participants in real time, and can also be used to help network participants address their compliance requirements.

An important objective of the program, says the group, is to also help increase transparency in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASMs) and enable these operators to sell their raw materials in the global market, while they meet their internationally ratified responsibility requirements. The network can help enable ASM operators to partner with due diligence data providers and, ultimately, join a blockchain-based network of validated participants. The pilot will also explore the use of incentives or financial benefits for ASMs and their local communities impacted by mining.

The pilot platform is built on the IBM Blockchain Platform and powered by the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Fabric, and is designed to be adopted across industry. The solution is built to allow interested parties of all sizes and roles in the supply chain easy access, including original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) across the automotive, electronics, aerospace and defense industries, and their supply chain partners such as mining companies and battery manufacturers.

Supply chain networks will be encouraged to join this open, industry-wide network to trace and validate minerals upon successful completion of the pilot. Work is expected to be extended beyond cobalt into other battery metals and raw materials, including minerals such as tantalum, tin, tungsten, and gold – sometimes referred to as “conflict minerals” – as well as rare earths.

Focus industries for the solution include automotive, aerospace and defense, and consumer electronics. There are plans for a governance board representing members across these industries, to help further ensure the platform’s growth, functionality and commitment to democratic principles.

The pilot is expected to be completed mid-year 2019.

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