Volvo uses blockchain tech over cobalt ethics supply concerns

Most cobalt is sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo, some by child miners; Volvo’s move aims to address ethics concerns

Volvo XC40 Recharge - front 3/4 static

Volvo is to use blockchain technology to help it trace the provenance of the cobalt used in its electric cars, like the XC40 Recharge.

Cobalt is a vital component for the batteries in electric cars, as well as smartphones and laptops. But with around 60 per cent of the world’s cobalt coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one of the poorest countries in the world, concerns over unregulated mines and child miners have led Volvo to introduce the provenance-tracking technology.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Best electric cars on sale

Blockchain works by creating a digital ‘ledger’, or database, that can be shared electronically between computers and companies, without being changed. Cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, rely on blockchain technology to track payments and keep the currency secure. Blockchain is already used by some diamond companies to ensure blood diamonds, mined in war zones to fund soldiers and mercenaries, do not make their way on to the market. 

Auto Express highlighted concerns over cobalt supply chains at the end of 2018, when we asked all the major players in the EV market where their cobalt came from. No manufacturer was able to guarantee its EV batteries were free from DRC cobalt, though BMW said it planned to stop using Congolese cobalt in the future. Even this solution is not without problems, however, as mines providing vital employment for some DRC residents.

Advertisement - Article continues below

In the case of Volvo’s cobalt, blockchain will be used to log the origin, weight and size of the metal, as well as its “chain of custody” - i.e. in which companies’ hands the material is in, or has passed through. 

Advertisement - Article continues below

With much of the world’s cobalt processed in refineries en mass, even manufacturers who insist on using legitimate mines can find it difficult to guarantee the material has been ethically sourced. By deploying blockchain to cobalt supply chains, however, Volvo will be able to ensure the materials used in its batteries were not dug out of the ground by children in dangerous, unregulated mines.

The Chinese-owned Swedish firm will work with its battery suppliers - CATL of China and LG Chem of South Korea - as well as tech firms Circulor and Oracle - to deploy the blockchain system. 

Martina Buchhauser, head of procurement at Volvo, said the firm has “always been committed to an ethical supply chain for our raw materials”, adding: “With blockchain technology we can take the next step towards ensuring full traceability of our supply chain and minimising any related risks, in close collaboration with our suppliers.”

What do you think of Volvo's EV battery plan? Let us know in the comments below...



Volvo XC40 Recharge - front 3/4 static

Volvo not planning to pay any CO2 fines

New Recharge models set to bring Volvo's CO2 average down below the EU target of 95g/km
6 Feb 2020
Volvo and Isuzu merger

Volvo and Isuzu enter commercial vehicle partnership

The two manufacturers will sign an agreement, which could see the Volvo-owned UD Trucks brand transferred to Isuzu Motors
18 Dec 2019
Volvo XC40 - front charging

Volvo offers free electricity for new plug-in customers

Volvo is offering a year’s supply of free electricity with any of its new plug-in hybrid models from now until 30 June 2020
8 Nov 2019
OPINION Volvo XC40 Recharge

Volvo want to lead the way in sustainability

After revealing their first EV, Volvo want to lead the way in sustainability just like they have with safety, says Jonathan Burn
23 Oct 2019

Most Popular

Hyundai Kona electric front
Hyundai Kona Electric

Hyundai Kona Electric to get increased range from July

UK-delivered Hyundai Kona Electrics will be outfitted with a handful of mechanical revisions, boosting the SUV’s maximum range to 300 miles
18 Mar 2020
Hyundai i20

New 2021 Hyundai i20 N to rival Ford Fiesta ST with 200bhp

New Hyundai i20 N to join i30 N in brand’s hot hatch line-up and our exclusive images preview how it could look
2 Apr 2020

New SEAT Leon 2020 review

The all-new SEAT Leon hatchback impresses with its blend of sporty handling and cutting-edge technology
3 Apr 2020