Volvo invests in cobalt traceability partner Circulor

Volvo has taken a stake in blockchain specialist Circulor, a company it has been working with on a traceability system for cobalt used in the batteries of electric cars.

Circulor’s blockchain platform is already used throughout Volvo’s battery supply chain to achieve that the company claims is “100 per cent traceability” of cobalt used in the XC40 Recharge P8, its first fully electric car.

Production of the XC40 Recharge P8 (pictured right) will start later this year in Ghent, Belgium, according to the Swedish carmaker.

Traceability of raw materials used in the production of lithium ion batteries, such as cobalt, is one of the main sustainability challenges faced by carmakers, particularly if they want to comply with guidance from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on mineral supply chains.

Data in the blockchain include the cobalt’s origin, attributes such as weight and size, the chain of custody and information establishing that participants’ behaviour is consistent with OECD supply chain guideline, says the company.

Demand for cobalt is expected to soar in coming years as electric vehicles continue to reach the market, and that demand is resulting in concerns about the environmental impact of mining for the mineral, and the human rights of those who work those mines.

Around 60 per cent of the world’s cobalt supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with reports of children as young as seven working in the mines, exposed to unsafe working conditions and potentially life-threatening skin and respiratory toxicity.

Last year, Amnesty International published reports on human rights and environmental issues associated with cobalt mining, and a lawsuit has been filed against major tech companies – including Apple, Google parent Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla – alleging they are complicit in the exploitation of children working in the sector.

Volvo says its investment in Circulor will allow both companies to expand their focus beyond cobalt, for example by looking at increasing traceability of mica, a mineral used as isolation material in the battery pack of electric Volvos.

By 2025, it expects half of its global sales to consist of fully electric cars, with the rest hybrids.

The technology developed by Circulor is implemented in partnership with CATL and LG Chem, Volvo Cars’ battery supply partners, and is intended to support Volvo’s “strict sourcing guidelines in terms of technology leadership, responsible supply chains, reduction of carbon emissions and competitive cost models.”

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