Samsung SDI Turns to Used Phones for Cobalt as Prices Surge

Samsung SDI, a battery supplier to carmakers, plans to recycle cobalt from used mobile phones as companies around the world scramble to secure supplies of the metal amid surging prices, according to Bloomberg.

The plan fuels a trend among battery makers to reduce dependence on the Democratic Republic of Congo as a source of cobalt. The African country, plagued by decades of corruption, violence and even child labor, produces more than half of the world’s supplies. Rising demand amid the electric-vehicle boom and a lack of major alternative sources has seen prices more than triple since the start of 2016.

Samsung SDI, an affiliate of Samsung Electronics, will buy a stake in a company with recycling technology and sign a deal to ensure long-term cobalt supplies, it said by email. That puts the company in competition with Volkswagen, BMW and Panasonic, which are all trying to lock in sources of the metal.

Used phones could be sourced from anywhere. Samsung annually produces hundreds of millions of devices with batteries that contain the material. It said in July that recycling of parts from millions of its ill-fated Note 7 smartphone would extract 157 tons of cobalt, copper and other minerals.

The technologies to extract minerals from dead batteries could add 25,000 metric tons of supply by 2025, according to projections by commodity analysts CRU Group. Once cobalt supplies from phones stabilize, Samsung SDI may follow Toyota and Panasonic in extracting materials from used hybrid electric vehicles.

Samsung SDI is also speeding up the development of products using more nickel, including nickel-cobalt-manganese batteries in which the ratio of nickel is as much as 88 percent. The company also wants to adopt nickel-cobalt-aluminum oxide batteries for electric cars, reflecting the trend in which carmakers gradually move to batteries that use less cobalt.

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