Tracing cobalt from mine to EV with Re|Source

For many years, Umicore has taken the necessary steps to make sure that the materials in Electric Vehicle batteries are responsibly sourced.

The quickening pace of the shift to Electric Vehicles (EVs) has seen the demand for cobalt soar. Yet extracting this increasingly scarce metal comes with associated risks, both to humans and the environment. As a result, there is growing pressure for stakeholders along the EV supply chain to only use ethically sourced cobalt.

This has long been a topic of concern for Umicore, as we have strived to assure the reliability and sustainability of our supply chain through, among other things, our due diligence efforts as outlined in the Sustainable Procurement Framework for Cobalt. 

It’s our belief that transparency among all stakeholders is a prerequisite for a truly sustainable supply chain. To turn this belief into action,  we joined the Re|Source consortium, founded by CMOC, Eurasian Resources Group (ERG) and Glencore, in 2021. A pioneering technology solution to trace responsibly sourced cobalt from the mine to the electric vehicle.


What makes Re|Source stand out?

There are three salient differentiators attached to this traceability venture. The first is that we’re using blockchain technology and zero-knowledge proofs, developed by the technology studio Kryha, to link digital flows with physical material flows on the ground, with complete security. The only way for industry competitors to collaborate effectively in a project like Re|Source is the guarantee of data protection, which blockchain provides through its decentralized system. 

The second differentiator is the way in which Re|Source has been developed. Over the last two years, we’ve built a solution that is tailor-made for the battery  raw materials, collaborating with industry players. This specialist and collaborative approach is preferable to engaging an external party with little experience or influence in the sector. 

The third is that we have extensively tested the veracity of the Re|Source model throughout the full battery supply chain of a leading EV manufacturer, Tesla. In 2021, the consortium thoroughly tested the use of Re|Source across Tesla’s supply chain, including mining sites in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Umicore’s cobalt refinery in Kokkola (Finland) and a battery maker. The pilot has laid a strong foundation for the technology’s wider rollout.


Opportunity for full value chain

Increasing value chain visibility is of particular benefit to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), which are under mounting public and regulatory pressure to disclose the origins of materials used in their EVs. The traceability of cobalt therefore has the potential to be a key competitive edge for OEMs looking to be proactive in their sustainability efforts, including providing transparency in their supply chains. 

The application could also be used to provide visibility beyond cobalt to other materials like nickel, or help keep track of other sustainability targets, such as reducing CO2 emissions.

Within the consortium, we firmly believe that greater supply chain transparency has widespread demand and benefits for the wider EV sector. As a result, we will engage both upstream and downstream parties, as well as our peers, to join these efforts.

Re|Source also enlists the support of strategic advisors, such as the Cobalt Institute and the Responsible Minerals Initiative, to provide feedback on the project. This external input not only confirms the viability of Re|Source, but also offers opportunities to develop and improve the venture. 

Over the past two years, the pilot stage testing of Re|Source, together with our founding partners, has put us in a strong position for 2022. This year and next, the consortium aims to integrate the findings of these pilots to deliver improvements for the project. We expect Re|Source to be ready for rollout later in 2022, with specific sites and supply chains prioritised before a wider implementation.