A hard, shiny, silvery-colored metal, cobalt is most often found as a byproduct of copper and nickel mining operations. It was first identified as an element in the mid-18th century by Swedish chemist Georg Brandt. Since then, it has found an array of manufacturing and scientific applications, most recently as a necessary component of the cathodes in many lithium-ion batteries.
The makers of electric and hybrid cars are highly dependent on the availability of a regular, reliable supply of cobalt to produce the requisite lithium-ion cell batteries. In fact, the manufacturing of batteries worldwide consumes more than 40 percent of all available cobalt resources.
The fact that much of the world’s cobalt deposits occur in under-resourced conflict regions such as Democratic Republic of the Congo - repeatedly cited for using forced child labor in its cobalt mines - makes developing North American sources an even more urgent issue. Tesla, Inc., which set a 2018 goal of producing half a million new vehicles, has stated that it is working with the goal of sourcing its cobalt needs exclusively in North America.