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Apple in talks to buy key iPhone ingredient cobalt directly from miners

The iPhone maker is one of the world's largest end users of cobalt for the batteries in its gadgets

Jack Farchy & Mark Gurman | Bloomberg 

Apple, iPhone, iPhone manufacturing, Apple Inc

Inc. is in talks to buy long-term supplies of directly from miners for the first time, according to people familiar with the matter, seeking to ensure it will have enough of the key battery ingredient amid industry fears of a shortage driven by the electric vehicle boom. 

The iPhone maker is one of the world’s largest end users of for the batteries in its gadgets, but until now it has left the business of buying the metal to the companies that make its batteries.

The talks show that the tech giant is keen to ensure that supplies for its iPhone and batteries will be sufficient, with the rapid growth in battery demand for electric vehicles threatens to create a shortage of the raw material. About a quarter of global production is used in smartphones.

Bigger Demand

is seeking contracts to secure several thousand metric tons of a year for five years or longer, according to one of the people, declining to be named as the discussions are confidential. Apple’s first discussions on deals with miners were over a year ago, and it may end up deciding not to go ahead with any deal, another person said.

An spokesman declined to comment. Glencore Plc Chief Executive Officer Ivan Glasenberg late last year named among several companies the miner was talking to about cobalt, without giving further details.

Securing Supplies

The move means will find itself in competition with carmakers and battery producers to lock up supplies. Companies from AG and AG to are racing to sign multi-year contracts deals to ensure they have sufficient supplies of the metal to meet ambitious targets for electric vehicle production. 

So far no major deals have been announced, although BMW’s head of procurement told Germany daily FAZ in early February that it was close to securing a 10-year supply deal.

is an essential ingredient in lithium-ion batteries for smartphones. While smartphones use around eight grams of refined cobalt, the battery for an electric car requires over 1,000 times more. has around 1.3 billion existing devices, while Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has been bullish about the prospects for electric vehicles.

The price of the metal has more than tripled in the past 18 months to trade at more than $80,000 a metric ton. Two-thirds of supplies come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there has never been a peaceful transition of power and child labor is still used in parts of the mining industry. 

In recent years has stepped up its engagement with suppliers after the origin of the metal in its supply chain came under scrutiny from human rights groups. In a report in early 2016, Amnesty International alleged that and Samsung Electronics Co.’s Chinese suppliers were buying from mines that rely on child labor.

Last year published a list of the companies that supply the used in its batteries for the first time, and said it would not let from small-scale mines in Congo into its supply chain until it could verify that the "appropriate protections" were in place. 

First Published: Wed, February 21 2018. 19:01 IST