Volvo announces cobalt tracking system for its electric-car batteries

Blockchain technology will allow Volvo to apply ‘global traceability’ of cobalt used in its electric-car batteries

Volvo battery

Volvo has announced that it'll employ ‘blockchain technology’ in order to track where its cobalt – the element used in the construction of lithium-ion batteries – is sourced from.

The use of cobalt in electric cars is controversial, as around 60% of the world’s supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the DRC – one of the least politically stable countries in the world – much of the rare metal is dug out by hand in unregulated mines, where there are additional fears over the use of child labour.

In order to verify that the cobalt in its batteries has been sourced responsibly, Volvo has signed a deal with its two suppliers – China’s CATL and South Korea’s LG Chem – to implement ‘global traceability’ across their supply chains.

‘Blockchain technology’ is essentially a digital diary that records where cobalt has come from, its weight and size, the chain of organisations that have handled it and whether or not those parties’ "behaviour is consistent with OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] guidelines."

The OECD helps companies "respect human rights and avoid contributing to conflict" around the globe when minerals are purchased from abroad.

Volvo also says the digital records cannot be changed, making it harder for companies to disguise the real origin of cobalt stocks.

“We have always been committed to an ethical supply chain for our raw materials,” said Martina Buchhauser, head of procurement at Volvo. “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.”

The agreement reached between Volvo, CATL and LG Chem applies "over the coming decade"; the Swedish manufacturer expects fully electric cars to account for half of its worldwide sales by 2025, with CO2 emissions falling by 40% per vehicle.

Its first electric car – the XC40 Recharge – will go on sale early in 2020, with deliveries following later in 2020. It already has seven plug-in hybrid vehicles in its line-up, including the recently announced XC40 T5 Twin Engine small SUV.