Demand for raw materials used in the production of EV batteries is expected to soar, and the UN trade body, UNCTAD, says the industry urgently needs to address the social and environmental impacts of the extraction of raw materials.
UNCTAD predicts that the market for EV batteries will grow from an estimated $7 billion to $58 billion by 2024. Some of the raw materials used in battery packs come from a small number of countries, which raises a number of concerns.
Two thirds of all cobalt production occurs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). According to UNICEF, about 20 percent of cobalt supplied from the DRC comes from mines where human rights abuses have been reported, and up to 40,000 children work in dangerous conditions for meagre income.
In Chile, lithium mining uses nearly 65% of the water in the country’s Salar de Atamaca region, one of the driest desert areas in the world, to pump out brines from wells. This has forced local quinoa farmers and llama herders to abandon ancestral settlements, and has also contributed to landscape damage, soil contamination, groundwater depletion and pollution.
Noting that “the rise in demand for the strategic raw materials used to manufacture electric car batteries will open more trade opportunities for the countries that supply these materials,” UNCTAD’s Director of International Trade, Pamela Coke-Hamilton, proposed that these countries should “develop their capacity to move up the value chain.”
In the DRC, this would mean building processing plants and refineries that would add value and, potentially, jobs within the country. Currently, refining takes place in other countries, mainly Belgium, China, Finland, Norway and Zambia, which reap the economic benefit.
UNCTAD also recommends that the industry find ways to reduce its dependence on critical raw materials, and develop a recycling chain for spent batteries, measures that would help deal with the expected increase in demand, and also create new business opportunities.
Source: United Nations