Is Wireless Power Irresponsible?

Here’s a thought I had. How responsible are we in tech? I believe we try to be, but knowledge is power. Knowledge can make us uncomfortable. Especially when we learn ugly secrets. Awareness is the key.

Is lithium-ion one of those ugly little lies we’re living without even knowing it? Maybe. 

Listen, we all love our devices, but let’s face it, the lithium-ion batteries we rely on have faults. I realize we need batteries to make things wireless. We need wireless power. In this case, specifically, we need lithium-ion batteries to make things happen longer. They seem like an amazing invention, but at what cost?

Wireless power is the cost. Smartphones, laptops, power tools, and electric vehicles all need lots of power. We rely on lithium-ion for almost everything in our hi-tech lives. It doesn’t stop there! Watches, toys, lights, soap dispensers, towel dispensers, and more. Can you think of any new device without a lithium-ion battery?

All these devices have cobalt in them. Most cobalt comes from the Congo where human rights mean nothing.

Do you remember when child labor was a horrible thing for clothing makers? I remember when Kathie Lee Gifford was told her clothing was made by children in another country. She didn’t know until she was told and then she was horrified. We should be reacting the same way.

I am telling you now, we have real issues with the mining of cobalt. Think child labor, human trafficking, and environmental destruction. Especially now that we have electric vehicles going mainstream.

Who is to blame for this? We can sit here and blame big nameless corporations, but you know, we had laptops and power tools before smartphones. It’s easy to point the finger at Apple, Samsung, Tesla, Ford, GM, or Nissan.

Let’s face it, we are to blame. That’s right, look in the mirror and see the guilty party. We buy all of this crap. And now we’re buying EVs which are going to accelerate the problem unless we find alternatives.

We can’t take all the blame though; local governments are pushing vehicles to go electric. In California, the state will stop selling anything but EVs by 2035. They want to save the planet, but are they inadvertently promoting child labor and destroying Africa’s environment? Clean cars, dirty conscience, but the California government will be happy.

In this article, I want to cover how responsibility around Lithium-Ion batteries needs awareness, and we have alternatives.

I’ll talk about recycling, which is being addressed today. Recycling is a key issue moving ahead. While we all like it, I know tons of batteries will be in landfills. How bad is that? Really bad for our kids.

Then I’ll cover the corruption in the cobalt mining industry and how it promotes child labor and human trafficking. How it will destroy the Congo.

Remember, in the US it’s mostly an environmental push. They’re doing it to save the environment. But at the cost? How many new problems have been created? 

I was inspired by a book, “Cobalt Red” by Siddharth Kara, to write this and get the word out. We have to act now to stop this.  

Problem #1 is Battery Recycling Overview

There are millions of smartphones and they all have toxic chemicals inside of them. Recycling is more than a good idea; it should be your first choice for anything with a battery inside. Just think about all the landfills that will have batteries breaking down in them. Eventually, something will leak and then get into a water supply. Chances are good it won’t be a happy ending for the environment and the people that live close by. 

The United States must build up battery recycling infrastructure now because in 10 years we’ll be destroying the environment all over again.

For smartphones, Apple and Samsung offer this service, free recycling. 

For household items, like smartphones, power tools, and other devices with batteries, we can usually take them to Lowes, Home Depot, or another store and drop them off. You have to see if they are a recycling center. Not everyone does this, but it gives you a few options. 

To look for a place to recycle lithium-ion batteries, look at these links.

However, to me, a growing issue will be electric vehicles, (EVs). The EV will have a lot of batteries. The good news is that major car companies, Ford, BMW, and others make it very easy to recycle all batteries.

We have to think about how many batteries are in an EV. It’s literally hundreds of pounds. That’s huge. According to this article, batteries in an EV can weigh from 1,000 lbs. to 2,000 lbs. 

As long as the big car companies are going to responsibly take back the cars and recycle them, batteries and all, I am good moving ahead. They all say they have programs in place. They can no longer just sell you a car, they must think about the complete ecosystem from beginning to end.

Eventually, some of these cars will wind up in a ditch, rotting into the earth. It’s only a matter of time. 

An interesting article talking about the problems of EVs and recycling can be found here.

Problem #2 is Cobalt in Lithium-ION from the Congo!

Cobalt and human rights violations. Specifically, where the majority of cobalt is mined, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, (DRC), where human rights are not a priority.

Lithium-ion batteries require lithium, cobalt, and manganese. These come from mines all over the world.

  • Most lithium is mined in Australia and Chile.
  • Most manganese comes from South Africa.
  • Most cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Unfortunately, the DRC is very poor and corrupt. Literally, a third-world country that relies on human trafficking and child labor to mine enough cobalt required to load up EVs with lithium-ion batteries.

How much cobalt is required?

  • A smartphone has about 5 to 10 grams of cobalt in each device. 
  • A laptop has about 1 ounce.
  • An EV has about 10 to 30 lbs. in it. Depending on where you research, any given EV could have 44 lbs. of Manganese, 30 lbs. of cobalt, and 17 lbs. of lithium. Source EVBox blog.  

So, in our effort to save the environment, it’s more like we’re creating new human rights issues along with pushing environmental problems down the road. 

In the DRC we are helping make the problems worse! Child labor and human trafficking are growing due to the increase in demand for cobalt. Not to mention all the environmental hazards near the mines. The chemicals and runoff from the mines create pollution and poison everyone around the mines.  This mining is destroying the land for years to come. Land that once sustained life is now dead and killing all those around it.

EVs to save the environment, yet I sense hypocrisy. I feel like the attempt to clean the air is killing people to get there. Is the first world making their countries better by destroying one third world country?

What makes Cobalt valuable?

It’s a key component in lithium-ion batteries. It makes them last longer and as of today, there is no great substitute. However, Tesla is working to replace it per this article.

Is mining bad?

No, of course not, as long as it is done responsibly. Slave labor and human rights should matter, as well as cleaning up the environment. Ethical mining is very good for the world. It’s done in almost every country, outside of the DRC and a few others. 

Unfortunately, the Congo mines are a mix of bad to worse. While some mining companies there observe the ethical and proper way to do things, most don’t care. Cheap products are more important. The DRC government is an enabler of these atrocities. It breeds lawlessness, militias, and slavery.

In the Congo artisanal mining is common. This is illegal in most of the world due to the dangers that minerals like cobalt, lithium, and uranium can cause. NPR did a nice article, found here

What is artisanal mining? 

It is basically someone digging a hole by hand and extracting minerals without working for any given company or following any rules. It sounds sexy until you realize these people get sick and work endlessly just for a dollar or so a day. No health benefits, no company to help you out, just enough for you to sell what you can carry in the hopes you get enough money to feed yourself. 

Now, imagine children doing this day in and day out alongside their mothers. Eventually, you get very sick. Imagine a mother with a baby strapped to her back, digging in a hole for cobalt.

Why would anyone buy minerals from artisanal miners?

Because it is cheap. Really, really cheap. They take what they’re given and they can’t transport it very far due to government permit requirements and money. 

Should we ban purchasing cobalt from artisanal miners?

Yes, and that’s what the ethical miners are trying to do. Unfortunately, in the Congo, it all gets thrown together without being tracked, basically hidden from where it came from.

That’s the real issue. It is not in anyone’s interest there to stop artisanal mining. Some middleman gets cobalt for next to nothing and hand it over to bigger mines for a little more money. It’s part of the system. 

Artisanal miners make enough to live, as long as they’re healthy enough to dig and carry minerals. Chances are they will die, so it becomes a choice. Do they die now due to hunger? Maybe they die later from hunger or disease. What would you choose?

Why is this still happening today?

Because cobalt is valuable.

Because we’re being lied to about where the cobalt comes from. 

Because turning a blind eye makes it worse, not better. 

Can we blame big business? Apple and Samsung? Tesla and Ford? I believe they are all members of the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA). It’s a start. They’re trying to follow the proper channels.

Can they do more? I believe so. I think they have to stop buying anything from the Congo.

Do I blame the Congo? No, because we’re buying EVs and other wireless devices. We, the end users, are the enablers.

Mining companies (mostly Chinese) are getting rich and feeding a very corrupt system.

Unfortunately, if businesses stop buying Congo cobalt, many will starve and die. I don’t see a happy ending here.

I would like to think American and European companies will pull out, but if they want cheap cobalt, they will turn a blind eye. Where else will they go? Our hope is that we find an alternative to cobalt and lithium-ion batteries.

What are the alternatives to Cobalt?

Yes, Iron-Phosphate batteries.

Elon Musk said that Tesla would move away from cobalt, article here.

Samsung and Panasonic also are moving away from cobalt and towards iron-phosphate, article here.

See and

I don’t see Chinese companies moving away from cobalt anytime soon since they practically have cornered the market on cobalt mining.

How does cobalt mining tie into child labor, human trafficking, and slavery?

The DRC government and local militias run everything. They will continue to do what they want with little regard for lives other than their own.

For example, let’s talk about Kamatanda. The army displaced thousands because the Chinese bought land, which included Kamatanda. According to Siddharth Kara, who wrote the book “Cobalt Red”, after the purchase, the DRC army came in and displaced over a thousand residents so it could be mined. The residents were asked (forced) to leave. They were not given anything for their trouble except their lives. All because what was under the ground was deemed more important than their well-being. 

But hey, they can come back to work in the mines, right?

What is being done for human rights in the DRC?

Unfortunately, every country that goes into the DRC succumbs to high profits in trade for these natural resources. It was originally Belgium and today it’s China. It’s mostly foreign companies running mines there, with the Chinese companies owning most of them. 

It appears China doesn’t care what happens in the DRC. 

However, in the free world, auto companies are trying to make sure they buy companies that do ethical mining of Cobalt. There are groups that look into things like this.

Which automakers have joined the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance, IRMA? Well, BMW was the first back in 2020, then Ford, VW, Mercedes, Tesla, and others

It appears some businesses will turn a blind eye to the atrocities. That’s why I am so glad Mr. Kara wrote such an impactful book.

Does this remind anyone of blood diamonds?

Going in circles

Our government can’t be blind to this, can they? Of course not, they’re not blind, they just choose to see what matters to them. Unfortunately, it has become electric versus fossil fuels. Again, power plants rely on fossil fuels to create the power to charge batteries.

Remember that power grids fail, don’t they? Without fossil fuels, when the power grid drops, it’s only a matter of time before batteries die.

My point is that we may be solving one problem but creating a new one. Look at the human rights issue. California of all places pushed this agenda and didn’t follow through by looking at this end-to-end.

Also, we have to think of the infrastructure issues. I think we have to turn away from vehicles and start moving towards flying vehicles for people. Think how much we spend on roads, bridges, tunnels, and so on. We could move that money to the electric grid and other utilities. Why are we still relying on wheels?

What prompted this article?

I read 2 books. First, “Cobalt Red” by Siddharth Kara, and second “China’s Second Continent” by Howard W. French. That forced me to look into this matter with a little more enthusiasm.

As many of you know, I currently do what I can to deploy 5G networks. We are on the cusp of moving from Lead Acid batteries to Lithium-Ion batteries. While this doesn’t seem like a major thing, it forced me to look into how these batteries were made. Batteries are such a pain in the ass to work with. When they came out with sealed batteries, I was overjoyed. Why?

Because back when I did fieldwork, I lost more work clothes to battery acid than almost anything else. It’s a slow eater of clothing. Also, I had to carry gallons of distilled water everywhere just in case they were low. 

Occasionally batteries would freeze, explode, or just start leaking. Usually, because the trickle charger was faulty. Yes, back then things failed all the time for no apparent reason. That’s why technicians were so valuable back then. We fixed things without replacing an entire chassis. Just like cars of old. 

Soon, wireless infrastructure will require new backup power sources. Lithium-ion and/or iron-phosphate batteries are a viable backup. I want to be sure that when we make that move, we will be responsible for creating a stable and ethical ecosystem.

Top Cobalt-Producing Countries

  • Democratic Republic of Congo Mine production: 130,000 MT The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is by far the world’s largest producer of cobalt, accounting for roughly 70 percent of global production. The country has been the top producer of metal for some time and reported an output of 130,000 MT in 2022. As cobalt demand rises, increasing attention is being directed at the DRC. However, cobalt mining in the country has been linked to human rights abuses, including child labor. In response, the London Metal Exchange has taken steps to ensure all producers associated with the exchange follow responsible sourcing guidelines. For its part, the DRC passed a revised mining law in 2018 that increased taxes on metals like cobalt and copper. In 2020, the country set up a new state company to buy and market all artisanal cobalt mined in the DRC with the aim of controlling the entire supply chain and boosting government revenue by having more influence on cobalt prices. The DRC is likely to remain crucial to the cobalt market for the foreseeable future. Glencore (LSE: GLEN, OTC Pink :GLCNF) has interests in two mines in the African country, Katanga and Mutanda — key producers of cobalt. Additionally, in November 2022, Trafigura closed a US$600 million financing that it said “would enable it to complete Congo miner Chemaf’s new mechanized mine at Mutoshi, processing plant in Kolwezi, and the expansion of its Etoile mine and processing plant in Lubumbashi.” The deal was contingent on enhanced ESG compliance and responsible sourcing awareness and implementation. The Mutoshi copper-cobalt mine is expected to begin operating in Q4 2023, and will be the world’s third-largest cobalt mine.
  • Russia Mine production: 8,900 MT After falling in 2021, Russia’s cobalt production increased in 2022, rising from 8,000 MT to 8,900 MT. While the country’s cobalt reserves stand at 250,000 MT, Russia is still well behind the DRC in terms of production. Large Russian miner Norilsk Nickel produces cobalt and is among the world’s top five producers of the mineral. With concerns about DRC cobalt running high, some automakers have been calling for increased EV battery production in Europe. There was hope that this push could boost Russia’s future cobalt production — however, that may now be out of the question while the country wages war against Ukraine. As of February 2023, EU sanctions on the country had yet to affect cobalt. However, an April 2022 round of sanctions from the US hit Russian cobalt with a 45 percent duty that will expire on January 1, 2024.
  • Australia Mine production: 5,900 MT Australia saw a large increase in cobalt production in 2022, with output rising by 605 MT from 2021’s 5,295 MT. As is the case for many other countries on this list, cobalt produced in Australia is a by-product of copper and nickel mining. The country’s nickel mines are located in the western part of the country, mostly around the Kalgoorlie and Leonora regions. As the DRC becomes increasingly challenging for miners and as investors try to divert their interests away from Africa, Australia is another country that’s receiving more attention. The island nation may be third in cobalt production, but its cobalt reserves are the second largest in the world at 1,500,000 MT.
  • Canada Mine production: 3,900 MT Canada was the fourth largest cobalt producer in the world in 2022, moving up from fifth place in 2021, although its production decreased in that time from 4,361 MT. As with Australia’s cobalt, Canadian cobalt comes mostly from large nickel and copper mines that produce cobalt as a by-product. Some of these major nickel and copper deposits are Kidd Creek, Sudbury, and Raglan. In recent years, a number of junior miners have rushed to Cobalt, Ontario, to stake land. The site is located near the Quebec border and is known for producing large quantities of silver in the past. It’s still early days for many of these companies, but if they are successful, it is possible that Canada’s cobalt production will rise.
  • Philippines Mine production: 3,800 MT The Philippines is the fifth largest cobalt producer in the world. The country’s cobalt production was up slightly in 2022, coming in at 3,800 MT. The Asian country is also a top nickel producer. The fate of mining in the Philippines was up in the air for awhile as former President Rodrigo Duterte and former Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu called for a shutdown of all mines in the country based on environmental concerns. However, Duterte seemed to have a change of heart in early 2021, lifting a ban on new mine permits in an effort to boost revenues. His successor, President Bongbong Marcos, has ordered the country’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources to enforce stricter guidelines and safety protocols on both small- and large-scale mines. He hopes to bring illegal mining operations into compliance so they can operate legally and with safer conditions for employees.
  • Cuba Mine production: 3,800 MT Cuban cobalt production fell slightly in 2022 to 3,800 MT, down from 4,000 MT in the year prior. The country’s Moa region is home to a joint venture nickel-cobalt operation held by Canadian firm Sherritt International (TSX:S,OTC Pink:SHERF) and General Nickel Company of Cuba. Moa uses an open-pit mining system to produce lateritic ore, which is processed into mixed sulfides containing nickel and cobalt using high-pressure acid leaching. Cubaniquel, the country’s state-owned nickel miner, is the sole operator of the Che Guevara processing plant at Moa.
  • Papua New Guinea Mine production: 3,000 MT Papua New Guinea has made the list of top cobalt producers by country for the fifth year in a row. In 2022, the small country off the coast of Australia produced 3,000 MT of cobalt as a by-product of nickel production, staying nearly flat with the previous year’s output of 2,953 MT. The country’s main cobalt producer is the Ramu nickel mine near Madang, a joint venture between private company MCC Ramu NiCo, Nickel 28 Capital (TSXV: NKL, OTC Pin k:CONXF) and the Papua New Guinea government. 
  • Madagascar Mine production: 3,000 MT Madagascar’s cobalt production was suspended in 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19, leading the country’s output for the year to fall to 850 MT from 3,400 MT in 2019. However, Madagascar’s cobalt-mining industry was on the rebound in 2021, putting out 2,800 MT for the year, and it continued to go up in 2022. Much of the country’s cobalt production comes from the Ambatovy nickel-cobalt mine, owned by Japanese company Sumitomo (OTC Pink:SSUMF,TSE:8053) and the Korean government. The fourth largest island in the world, Madagascar is also a major producer of graphite, another important battery metal.
  • Morocco Mine production: 2,300 MT Morocco’s cobalt production remained stable from 2021 to 2022, coming in at 2,300 MT. The majority of this production comes from Managem Group’s Bou Azzer cobalt mine, which produces the metal as a mono-product. Cobalt from Moroccan mines got a lot of attention in 2019 after major carmaker BMW (OTC Pink:BYMOF,ETR:BMW) announced it would be buying cobalt directly from mines in Australia and Morocco to ensure its supply of battery raw materials is sourced responsibly. In mid-2022, Managem signed a deal with Renault (PAR:RNO) to supply the car manufacturer with 5,000 MT of cobalt sulfate annually for seven years starting in 2025. 
  • China Mine production: 2,200 MT China’s cobalt output in 2022 remained flat compared to 2021. However, the country leads the world in refined cobalt production at 70 percent of total global supply; the material it uses comes mostly from the DRC. The Asian nation is also the top consumer of cobalt, with the vast majority going to the country’s rechargeable battery industry.

Cobalt metric tons mined per country

  • Democratic Republic of Congo – 100,000 tonnes
  • Russia – 6,100 tonnes
  • Australia – 5,100 tonnes
  • Philippines – 4,600 tonnes
  • Cuba – 3,500 tonnes
  • Madagascar – 3,300 tonnes
  • Papua New Guinea – 3,100 tonnes
  • Canada – 3,000 tonnes
  • Tonnes are metric, 1,000 KG in this case.

Joe Rogan’s Interview with Siddharth Kara



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