In recent years, there has bene a manifold increase in the price of cobalt and this has prompted one company to seek out the metal from used mobile phones. Cobalt is being planned to be recycled in this manner by Samsung SDI Co which supplies batteries to major automakers such as BMW.
Battery makers globally have been trying to reduce their dependence on the Democratic Republic of Congo for their supply of cobalt. Over half of the total output of cobalt globally is mined out of this country that has been hard hit for decades by corruption, violence and child labor. The price of cobalt has nearly tripled this year compared to the prices in 2016 due to anticipated future demands of the metal from the manufacturers of electric cars.
Samsung SDI has announced that it would sing an agreement with a company that possess the technology for recycling cobalt so that it is able to get long term supply of the metal. The South Korean company is also taking up a stake in the company. this step will essentially place Samsung SDI in line for direct competition with companies such as Volkswagen AG, BMW and Panasonic Corp., all of which are attempting to secure long term cobalt supply for themselves.
“Price concerns are the biggest motivating factor for SDI,” said Lee Hyun-bock, a research analyst at the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources. “Keeping the prices low is vital when Chinese competitors are posing a threat, while it’s clear now that the trend toward recycling to reduce reliance on Congo is irreversible.”
The target company was not mentioned in the announcement by SDI. But the statement mentioned American Manganese and Umicore SA.
Umicore is attempting to enhance its ability to recycle cobalt in a factory based in Olen, Belgium because the company is the largest consumer of cobalt in the world. According to Marc Grynberg, the CEO of the company, the process of recycling assumes great importance because the company estimates that in the near future, global demands for cobalt would significantly outpace supply of the metal, primarily of the demand from electric vehicle makers remains at the current pace.
But on the other hand, cobalt can be obtained from used phones that are available everywhere. Batteries containing cobalt are fit into hundreds of millions of phones produced annually by Samsung itself. The company said that about 157 tons of cobalt, copper and other minerals could be recycled from millions of its rejected Note 7 smartphones alone.
Therefore, as an affiliate of Samsung, SDI would not find it a problem to get its hand on rejected and used smartphones.
The metal may also be extracted and recycled from used hybrid electric vehicles by Samsung SDI after stabilization of supplies of cobalt from phones just as Toyota Motor Corp. and Panasonic are planning.
(Adapted from Bloomberg.com)