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Cobalt miners sorting minerals on the road between Kolwezi and Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on February 15, 2018. Photo: Samir Tounsi/AFP via Getty Images

Sourcing of cobalt, a material commonly used in lithium ion batteries for portable electronics and electronic vehicles, has come under intense scrutiny lately for economic, political and geographical reasons. Most notably, 58% of the world's cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where production is attended by political unrest and reported human rights violations, including child labor.

The big picture: While significant efforts to reduce cobalt quantities in EV batteries are underway, they are still very much a work in progress. Global demand for cobalt has nearly quadrupled in the past 5 years as a result of increased demand for rechargeable batteries, and is expected to keep rising.

Several battery companies have come out to declare their intention to cut down on cobalt usage. Tesla, for example, has already made progress toward reducing cobalt in their EVs by an estimated 60%, from 11 to 4.5 kilograms per car, and promises that the next generation will contain none at all.

Yes, but: Substituting cobalt in a rechargeable battery is not a simple switch, as alternative battery chemistries do not yet attain the same energy and power performance as a cobalt-containing electrode. Cobalt currently provides the highest levels of energy, power and stability — all characteristics required for electric vehicle batteries, and especially for drivers with range anxiety. While R&D efforts along the EV battery supply chain are focusing on finding suitable or even superior materials, they will still have to undergo rigorous testing requirements and new manufacturing developments before mass production.

What's next: Battery manufactures will continue reducing cobalt in their battery chemistries, but replacing cobalt completely will likely take several years. In the meantime, Global Energy Metals predicts that global annual cobalt demand will exceed 120,000 tons by 2020, with roughly 60% going toward battery production. Benchmark Mineral Intelligence also predicts cobalt demand to triple by 2026 because of increased EV manufacturing.

Maggie Teliska is a technical specialist at Caldwell Intellectual Property, an intellectual property law firm. She is also a member ofGLG, a platform connecting businesses with industry experts.

Go deeper

16 mins ago - World

Barbados becomes a republic, replacing U.K. queen with president

Combination images of Dame Sandra Mason, president of Barbados, and Britain's Prince Charles at her swearing-in ceremony in Bridgetown, Barbados, late Monday.

Barbados officially became a republic at midnight local time after Dame Sandra Mason was sworn in as the Caribbean nation's first president in a ceremony attended by the United Kingdom's Prince Charles.

Why it matters: Mason replaced Britain's Queen Elizabeth as head of state Tuesday — removing the country's final remaining colonial tie to the U.K. almost 400 years after the first British ships arrived in Barbados.

Right-wingers making McCarthy sweat for future Speaker post

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stands with his Republican colleagues outside the House on Nov. 17. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Right-wing elements in the Republican Party are complicating House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's attempts to become the next speaker of the House should the GOP take back the majority in 2022.

Why it matters: While McCarthy has worked carefully to build trust among the conservatives who tanked his chances at clinching the speakership in 2015, they're still circling ahead of the next Speaker vote in January 2023.

4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congress sprints to meet crush of deadlines

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Congressional leaders have been pushing off vital action for months — and a lot of it will catch up with them in December, which begins Wednesday.

Driving the news: Funding for the federal government is set to expire at midnight on Friday. There are also consequential deadlines related to the debt limit, President Biden's agenda and annual actions like voting on the National Defense Authorization Act.