A report from the UN trade body, UNCTAD, out today calls for the social and environmental impacts of the extraction of raw materials to be urgently addressed with a drive to cobalt-free and silicon battery technology.
Electric cars are rapidly becoming more popular amongst consumers, and UNCTAD predicts that some 23 million will be sold over the coming decade. Ads th demand demand for raw materials used in the production of electric car batteries is set to soar, the market for rechargeable car batteries, currently estimated at $7bn, is forecast to rise to $58bn in just three years by 2024.
For example, two-thirds of all cobalt production happens in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) which has reserves of 3.4m tonnes, comapred to the second highest supplier Australia at 1.4m tonnes. According the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), about 20 per cent of cobalt supplied from the DRC comes from artisanal mines, where human rights abuses have been reported, and up to 40,000 children work in extremely dangerous conditions in the mines for meagre income.
In Chile, lithium mining uses nearly 65% of the water in the country's Salar de Atamaca region, one of the driest desert areas in the world, to pump out brines from drilled wells. This has forced local quinoa farmers and llama herders to migrate and abandon ancestral settlements. It has also contributed to environment degradation, landscape damage and soil contamination, groundwater depletion and pollution.
"The rise in demand for the strategic raw materials used to manufacture electric car batteries will open more trade opportunities for the countries that supply these materials,” said Pamela Coke-Hamilton UNCTAD's director of international trade. In the DRC, this would mean building processing plants and refineries that would add value and, potentially, jobs within the country. However, for various reasons (including limited infrastructure, financing and a lack of appropriate policies), refining takes place in other countries, mainly Belgium, China, Finland, Norway and Zambia, which reap the economic