Fair trade batteries, anyone?
The biggest issue with battery-powered cars right now is the batteries. An electric motor is a hardy thing, and, for the most part, an electric motor is a simple device built using common materials. The issues with electric batteries are two-fold. First, lithium batteries are made using cobalt, a mineral that's mainly sourced from the Congo. The explosion in demand from smartphone makers and automakers has led to some unethical practices from mining cobalt, with alleged child labor spearheading the problems that also include other social issues as well as environmental impact. The second problem is what to do with all the new batteries that are spent.
Volvo is meeting the first issue head-on as we wait for its first fully electric car, the Volvo XC40 Recharge, to hit the streets. The Swedish company plans to implement the global traceability of cobalt used in its batteries by applying blockchain technology. Essentially, blockchain is a secure and decentralized way of filing and accessing information. Once a record has been added to a "chain," it can't be changed without being detected. Most famously, the system is being used to underpin cyber-currencies like Bitcoin.
Volvo Cars have come to an agreement with its two global battery suppliers, CATL of China and LG Chem of South Korea, along with leading global blockchain technology companies to implement a system of traceability of cobalt starting this year.
A cryptographically protected ledger of records linked with each other allows the companies involved to verify and audit transactions independently while also enforcing a common set of rules for what data can be recorded. That means the cobalt's origin will be recorded along with attributes such as weight, size, and other pertinent information needed to ensure that cobalt sourced is consistent with Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) supply chain guidelines.
Hopefully, this system works well, as the ethical side of battery supply is the largest criticism that is leveled at electric vehicles.