And, according to the sources, that's exactly it. Once an ignored byproduct of copper mining, the demand for cobalt is driven by the world's reliance on the rechargeable batteries in our smartphones and the shift toward electric vehicles.
It can be recalled that in March 2017, Apple announced that it would stop buying hand-mined cobalt in the Congo following reports of child labor and unsafe work conditions.
And its not like it's just a small amount of the material the iPhone flogger is looking to buy.
Apple has reportedly been in discussions to secure contracts for "several thousand metric tons" of cobalt each year for at least five years.
Apple is not the only company seeking long-term cobalt supply deals: BMW has been seeking its own 10-year deal for its electric auto program.
Some materials companies are working on ways to recover and recycle cobalt from old and faulty batteries as alternatives to mining new supplies. The company is said to be making the move in order to guarantee that it will have enough of the key battery component.
Apple and other major cobalt consumers are scurrying to access cobalt resources that are now limited-not because of the amount of ore available, but because mining companies can't get it out of the ground fast enough to keep up with everyday demand of rechargeable batteries. "We are in a supply-demand imbalance and it will take miners a few years to catch up". BMW is also close to securing a 10-year supply deal with an unnamed supplier in February.
Apple may end up deciding not to go ahead with a deal, the report said, citing another source.
Apple declined to comment on the report. A metric ton now costs $80,000 which is more than triple of what it used to cost 18 months ago.
"In 2017, average annual cobalt prices more than doubled, owing to strong demand from consumers, limited availability of cobalt on the spot market and an increase in metal purchases by investors", the U.S. Geological Survey said in its annual report. According to Amnesty International, about 20 percent of the cobalt mined in Congo is extracted by hand by informal miners including children, often in unsafe conditions.