Our modern economy is wonderful in many ways. It allows us to have access to an enormous amount of products and services, but sometimes it becomes difficult to figure out where all of these products are actually coming from. Supply chains that exist for products such as smartphones and electric cars, for example, are extremely complex. Ford Motor Company is teaming up with a group of companies, including IBM, to create a blockchain-based platform to allow a much higher degree of understanding and oversight for their cobalt supply.
Modern technology is made possible by many obscure metals. Rare Earth Elements (REEs) are frequently used, but minor metals like vanadium, lithium, and cobalt are also being used, and in far greater quantities. Much of the cobalt that is currently mined today is sourced from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The DRC faces developmental difficulties, and many times the cobalt that flows from the DRC into the global marketplace is simply untraceable, and recently, the ethics of sourcing the metal have come into question. Ford reportedly wants to change this with blockchain technology.
Blockonomi says that while there is near certainty that the cobalt in question is mined in the DRC, how it was extracted is a complete mystery. Additionally, near-zero transparency poses a problem for intermediaries like the London Metal Exchange (LME), as well as major corporations that require access to vital metals, now in increasing quantities.
Ford is among global automakers that are scrambling to secure supplies of battery metals. The typical electric car uses around 20 pounds of cobalt according to Blockonomi, which further emphasizes why the once-obscure metal has suddenly become so popular.
“We remain committed to transparency across our global supply chain,” said Lisa Drake, the vice president of global purchasing and powertrain operations for Ford Motor Company in the report. “By collaborating with other leading industries in this network, our intent is to use state-of-the-art technology to ensure materials produced for our vehicles will help meet our commitment to protecting human rights and the environment.”
The collaboration that Drake is referring to involves Huayou Cobalt, IBM, LG Chem, and RCS Global. It will employ IBM’s hyperledger-powered blockchain technology to create a record-keeping platform, and ensure that cobalt entering the supply chain is coming from responsible sources.