Chinese control of cobalt supply is risk for car industry: Glencore

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) - The automotive industry is waking up too late to the fact that China will hold most of the world’s supply of cobalt, a key metal for electric vehicle (EV) batteries, Glencore Chief Executive Ivan Glasenberg said on Tuesday.

“If cobalt falls into the hands of the Chinese, yeah you won’t see EVs being produced in Europe etc. They are waking up too late ... I think it’s because the car industry has never had a supply chain problem before,” Glasenberg told the FT Commodities Global Summit in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Glasenberg said he was nevertheless prepared to sell cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo to China if the price was good. He added that the company was not changing its production plans in the DRC.

More than 60 percent of global cobalt production comes from the DRC. Glencore, the world’s biggest producer, agreed last week to sell a third of its output to China’s GEM.

GEM and its subsidiaries will buy 13,800 tonnes of cobalt from Glencore this year, 18,000 tonnes next year and 21,000 tonnes in 2020.

The Swiss-based miner is expected to produce about 39,000 tonnes this year or about 35 percent of the global total, estimated at 110,000 tonnes by analysts.

A byproduct of copper and nickel smelting, cobalt extends the life of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, which automakers typically guarantee for eight to 10 years.

Expectations of supply shortages have fueled a rally that has taken prices to around $39 a lb, from near $10 a lb in January 2016 and to their highest since July 2008, before the financial crisis started.

Reuters reported last year that Chinese battery maker Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd (CATL) had agreed a deal late in 2016 to buy large amounts of cobalt from Glencore.

CATL’s listing prospectus published last year names Glencore as a top-five supplier.

Additional reporting by Pratima Desai in London; Editing by Dale Hudson