UN Report Highlights the Need for Eco-Conscientious Battery Material Resourcing

July 17, 2020 by Stephanie Leonida

The UN released a report concerning raw materials used in battery technology with regard to production, consumption, trade, and prices.

As advancements in battery technology continue to grow, the demand for the resources needed to create them will also rise. The UN trade body, UNCTAD recently released a report that highlighted the need to address the social and environmental impacts associated with the extraction of raw materials for use in creating batteries. 


UN Report Highlights the Need for Eco-Conscientious Battery Material Resourcing Figure
Image used courtesy of UNCTAD


“Alternative sources of energy such as electric batteries will become even more important as investors grow warier of the future of the oil industry,” said UNCTAD’s director of international trade, Pamela Coke-Hamilton in a recent news release. 

Using rechargeable batteries and taking advantage of battery technologies that mitigate the use of harmful and unsustainably sourced materials such as cobalt will enable the transition into a world with a better low carbon system. 

At present, the automotive space is seeing increasing sales in electric vehicles (EVs), rising by 65% from 2017 to 2018, reaching 5.1 million vehicles. This number is expected to rise to 23 million sales within the next decade. 

According to the report, the worldwide market value for lithium-ion batteries was $7 billion in 2018 and is set to reach $58.8 billion by 2024. 


Social and Environmental Impacts

Concentrated pockets of the materials needed to construct batteries exist in particular geographic locations. A substantial 50% to 60% of the world’s cobalt is sourced from mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The second and third largest supplies come from Australia and Cuba respectively. Cobalt is but one of a variety of metals used in creating lithium-ion batteries. 

However, at higher doses and with prolonged exposure, cobalt is extremely hazardous to the natural environment and its inhabitants. Past studies and reports have implicated the metal in lung disease, heart failure, soil infertility, widespread coastal pollution, and more. Moving from mining, refineries, battery plants, consumer goods manufacturers, electronic recycling facilities, and waste dumps, cobalt comes into contact with a number of people and environments. 


Highlighting the Importance of Green Energy

The UNCTAD report further highlights highly probable disruption in the supply of battery materials. This may be incurred by political instability and adverse environmental impacts, which overall serves to reduce the stability and security of supply chains for manufacturers. 

To combat this, the report suggests investing in green battery technologies that do not depend heavily on materials like cobalt and lithium. This would reduce the vulnerability of consumers to shortages in supply, though it would also reduce revenues of the countries supporting them.

Green technologies that enable the recycling of used rechargeable batteries may also help reduce adverse environmental impacts. Research into alternatives to toxic metals like cobalt is also another avenue for protecting the health of the environment and its people.