UPDATED 10:23 EDT / JANUARY 16 2019


Ford joins IBM in blockchain pilot to track cobalt mined in Congo

Automaker Ford Motor Co. announced Tuesday that the company will use IBM Corp.’s blockchain-based platform to track cobalt sourced from a Chinese-owned mine in Congo to its electric car battery manufacturing plants.

The objective of the partnership is to create better tracking for sourcing the mineral to ensure that it is being ethically mined by local companies.

With the rise of electric cars hitting the streets, the demand for lithium-ion batteries has also been on the rise. Although car makers have sought to eliminate cobalt from the manufacturing process of the car batteries, it may take years to do that.

Ford has partnered with South Korean cathode maker LG Chem Ltd., RCS Global Group and China’s Huayou Cobalt in order to form a supply-chain system that will track cobalt mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The objective of the new platform is to provide better sourcing for the cobalt and other mined minerals coming out of the country. The reason: Some minerals from the region are illicitly mined using child labor and ignoring impacts on the local environment. Other mining efforts may be tied to political instability in the region or involved in government corruption.

The system will make use of IBM’s blockchain platform to form a tamper-proof record of every transaction that happens to the minerals along the entire supply chain. Blockchain technology is best known for its use in securing cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, but it has been put to use across numerous industries including finance, insurance and healthcare.

“With the growing demand for cobalt, this group has come together with clear objectives to illustrate how blockchain can be used for greater assurance around social and environmental sustainability in the mining supply chain,” said Manish Chawla, general manager of the global industrial products industry for IBM.

IBM’s platform has been put to successful use by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and a bevy of farms, shipping companies and grocery stores to provide highly accurate tracking of produce to deliver better food safety. The IBM Food Trust blockchain piloted in August 2017 and launched its commercial service in December.

Ethically sourced diamonds and minerals have also gotten the blockchain treatment. For example, diamond mining and retail company De Beers launched a blockchain network pilot to track diamonds to prevent the distribution of conflict diamonds. Open Mineral, an online metal and mineral exchange based out of Switzerland, partnered with a blockchain provider to track minerals for a similar purpose.

In the case of Ford’s partners, cobalt ore would be placed in sealed bags, each of which would be registered on the IBM blockchain as it comes out of the ground at Huayou’s industrial mine site. Then it would be registered again as the bag moves from cart to truck on its way to the smelter, then to LG Chem’s cathode plant in South Korea. Every step of the transport, processing and finally transformation into battery components could be audited as a historical record.

“As the validator of the network, we will bring our vast experience working on responsible sourcing at all stages of the supply chain at all times,” said Nicholas Garret, group chief executive officer at RCS Global. ”Our collective effort allows participating companies to progress from human-led risk management to technology-led impact generation in a highly efficient and cost-effective manner. Augmenting crucial human expertise and experience, this is a demonstration of technology for good, empowering vulnerable communities and protecting the environment.”

Photo: Pixabay

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