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Volvo using blockchain in mission for conflict-free cobalt

6 August 2019

Swedish automaker Volvo are using blockchain to help establish “full transparency and traceability” in their cobalt supply. After a long history of child exploitation and conflict mining history of the rare metal, this is a step in the right direction for EV automakers and future tech. But is it enough?

Volvo are embracing all kinds of tech in 2019, and not all of it is on wheels. They’ve successfully used blockchain to track recycled cobalt across China, with plans to expand the project to more of their cobalt supply and EV battery production across their range.

The news was revealed to Reuters in emails last week, where Volvo confirmed successful tracking of cobalt “from a Chinese recycling plant to Volvo Cars Zhejiang over a two-month period to June 27”. Volvo have not confirmed that they will extend the blockchain program beyond recycling.

Cobalt has long been the most problematic ingredient in EV batteries with ties to child labour and conflict funding in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where two thirds of the world’s cobalt is mined.

And Volvo will need all the cobalt they can get. The company that gave us the XC90 plug-in hybrid is gearing up to sell 1 million electrified cars by 2025, and the rare metal is an essential part of modern battery production. 

Volvo are also behind the upcoming all-electric Polestar 2

Cobalt’s necessity has made it a valuable commodity for EV automakers and blockchain technology provides much-needed accountability for the industry going forward. Volvo isn’t even the first to try it, with Ford trialling the technology earlier this year.

But, alas, it’s Volvo that has the attention this time. They’ve partnered with UK-based Circulor to develop the blockchain tech used in the program, trialling it in the factory of their Chinese parent company Geely.

Why blockchain?

Most people know blockchain as the technology behind cryptocurrencies. Blockchains are essentially online ledgers, keeping permanent records to account for the underlying commodity. This is useful for currencies because it prevents double spending, but the same principle can be applied to any product with the right system behind it. 

A chunk of cobaltite ore

With an extension of the program, cobalt could be tracked from the Congolese mine to the Chinese factory, potentially halting the corruption and exploitation clouding this crucial resource.

Into the future

If this program proves successful it will be an enormous stride for EV manufacturing. Any steps toward ending child labour are an unquestionably good thing, and legitimising Congolese mining would benefit everyone involved. Not to mention it would shut up the combustion propagandists who are constantly trying to poke holes in EV tech.

Volvo’s project has enormous potential for the future of technology. Blockchain and EVs are two of the most revolutionary technologies sweeping the world today, and their integration will give automakers valuable lessons for their use in the next decade. Safe to say tech nerds worldwide are salivating.

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