Apple may buy cobalt direct from mining companies, protecting both parties

Apple is one of the world's largest end users of cobalt for the batteries in its gadgets, but until now it has left the business of buying the metal to the companies that make its batteries.

"We're not sure whether (Apple) want to buy the cobalt for the battery makers that supply them or whether they are planning to stand behind the cobalt supply chain as guarantors", a cobalt industry source said. In the past, the company is reported to have unwittingly bought batteries containing cobalt mined using child labor.

In order to produce the millions of batteries needed for the next generations of iPhones and iPads, Apple is looking to acquire a few thousand metric tons of cobalt annually for at least the next five years.

Bloomberg says that talks first began more than a year ago, and Apple is seeking a long-term deal - though nothing is yet certain. Bloomberg reports that smartphone batteries use around eight grams of refined cobalt, but a battery for an electric vehicle needs more than a thousand times that amount.

Apple declined to comment on the report. Each iPhone battery has an estimated 8 grams of refined cobalt.

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The automobile sector has certainly pushed up the demand for cobalt, but it has not peaked yet, according to Darton Commodities, which specializes in the sale of cobalt.

Talking to reporters in London last December, Glasenberg said the company had held talks with Apple, Tesla and Volkswagen as part of ongoing discussions with industrial clients.

Cobalt is now on the market for over $80,000 per metric ton and has more than doubled in price since 2016.

Other companies such as Samsung, BMW and VW are also racing to secure supplies, according to the report. These players would not leave any stone unturned to secure the supply of cobalt in the future as well. Although Glencore - a name which may be familiar to you - is the biggest supplier, two-thirds of all cobalt supplies actually come from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Over the years, the Cupertino, California-based company has faced the heat of human rights groups, which allege that Apple has kept its ethics at stake by sourcing supply from the mines involved in child labor.

  • Desiree Holland