Sustainable cobalt.. Will Morocco become a major supplier and a global competitor? | Politics and Economics | In-depth analyzes with a broader perspective from DW | DW

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Morocco is not a major cobalt producer in Africa, but it is drawing attention for its scarce resource: Car companies such as Germany’s BMW and France’s Renault have signed contracts to buy “sustainable cobalt” from Morocco. Cobalt is a metal used in electric car batteries, among other uses. Most of the metal currently comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But mining there is controversial due to questionable working conditions. In the past, children were also sent to lonely and unsafe mines.

Working conditions in Morocco are better, and there are plans to recover the cobalt from old batteries through recycling – and by using green energy all of this can happen with little carbon dioxide emissions. Moroccan Minister of Industry and Trade Riad Mezour had struck a major deal in the summer of 2022 with the French automaker Renault. 5 thousand tons annually of Moroccan cobalt will be exported as of 2025, according to an interview with the Moroccan minister on local television.

The minister stated that the deal includes “5 thousand tons of cobalt, which is approximately 60-70 percent of our production, but we are investing in more exploration, and production will increase in the coming years. This partnership is the first step in the battery industry chain.. We are proud Also by providing added value to the industry here in our country and being able to show the attractiveness of our location in Morocco.”

Huge contracts with BMW and Renault

Mohamed Bachiri, former president of Renault Morocco, explained that this deal is also new for Renault, adding: “It is the first time in the history of the automotive industry that we directly purchase raw materials. I am sure that this will offer new possibilities in how “We dealt with the challenges of sourcing raw materials that have become very strategically important. We see how important this is all over the world and the news proves it again.”

Renault is not the only major company that has acquired Moroccan cobalt, as the German car manufacturer BMW also concluded contracts with Morocco in 2020 worth 100 million euros. Major auto manufacturers are turning to electric vehicles, and as a result, their demand for cobalt for batteries is increasing.

Cobalt mines in the Congo

“Sustainability and security of supply are also important factors for electric mobility,” according to a BMW press release. That’s why BMW decided to stop buying Cobalts from the Congo. It seems that criticism of working conditions there has become very loud, and the company responded to a question from German Channel 1 radio (ARD), saying: In order to avoid violations of human rights and environmental standards, we have taken many measures regarding cobalt as a major component in the manufacture of battery cells. . For the current generation of battery cells, we buy the cobalt directly from the mines and make it available to our battery cell manufacturers. This is why we get cobalt directly from mines in Australia and Morocco. This gives us complete transparency about the origin and mining methods.”

But this change in supply policy did not come suddenly, rather it is in accordance with the “Supply Chain Due Diligence” law passed by the German government on January 1, 2023. According to this law, large companies must ensure respect for human rights in private international supply chains. with it.

But we cannot ascertain the working conditions in Morocco and to what extent they are sustainable and employee-friendly. Neither those in charge of the Minagem Group nor union representatives nor any of the roughly 1,300 miners wanted to interview us. But working conditions have improved, says Andreas Wenzel of the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Morocco.

Morocco is also more attractive as a trading partner than other African countries, because it has higher standards and a shorter trade route to Europe. Wenzel says the war in Ukraine, the attempt to diversify suppliers of raw materials, and the struggle with new global economies such as China all mean that Morocco is becoming a more interesting partner. “Of course, the current geopolitical situation gives Morocco the opportunity to present itself in various ways as a reliable partner to Europe. This applies to industrial issues, it applies to issues of raw materials, and it also applies to cooperation in the field of renewable energies such as green hydrogen,” he adds.

Expand the use of green energy in Morocco

Morocco is now the second most important investment location for German companies in Africa, and has now overtaken South Africa as the largest producer of automobiles. At the same time, the country has greatly expanded in terms of green energy from sun, wind and water. By doing so, the kingdom wants to power parts of its industrial sector with green energy, thus becoming more attractive to large companies committed to sustainability.

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Morocco’s mining industry expert, Abdallah Mottaki, says that although Morocco ranks 12th in global cobalt reserves, it is not a big player when it comes to this mineral. The professor at Mohammed VI University and member of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council adds that there is currently only one cobalt mine in the country, which is 120 kilometers from the desert city of Ouarzazate. It is owned by the state mining company (Managem).
But Morocco is in a good strategic position, according to Mottaki. “Morocco has been able to develop an integrated cobalt sector: from primary extraction in the mine to final recycling. It is this final processing that now allows Morocco to play a role in supply chains on a global scale,” he adds.

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This means that the car manufacturers actually buy the cobalt processed in the first step and it is recycled at the local level. Morocco has other plans, too. A year ago, the Moroccan mining company Managem-Group, in collaboration with Swiss mining giant Glencore, announced that it also wanted to recycle cobalt from old batteries in the future. This will be another step for Morocco on its way to becoming a sustainable supplier of raw materials.

Rabat – Donia Sedqi/ Z.A.B

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