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Automakers could look to invest in cobalt mines in future: Ford

Automakers could look to start investing directly in cobalt mines in order to secure supply, Ford said at a major industry event Monday. Speaking on a panel at Mining Indaba, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Ted Miller, head of energy storage strategy and research at Ford, said that car companies are now in an "awkward position" of actually driving the cobalt price on the back of electric vehicle battery production needs.

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He said that collaboration is required across the entire value chain. Although Miller did say car companies don't need to own cobalt mines just yet, "it is certainly a topic of conversation."

When asked why Ford is so focused on growing its EV offerings Miller said that the technology is the next horizon in terms of efficiency and lowering environmental footprints.

He said that in order to drive consumer interest and related demand in the sector car makers must start to develop unique and innovative EV products.

"Everyone must benefit" from the EV investment plan, not just automakers, in Miller's view.

Unsurprisingly EVs was a hot topic both on stage and on the sidelines at Indaba this year. One senior analyst said in conversation that from his data crunching for now the price of lithium looks reasonable while cobalt looks "toppy, and is likely why it has been coming off."

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Miller said that Ford, and other autos, are trying hard to reduce dependency on cobalt; a metal primarily mined out of the politically sensitive Democratic Republic of Congo.

Miller cautioned however that the drive away from cobalt was playing into the hands of other metals, particularly nickel. "We're switching out cobalt dependency for nickel," he said.

Still, on a separate panel looking at gold and battery metals, John Reade, head of strategy at the World Gold Council, cautioned that nickel and lithium are different from cobalt, and are in reality nowhere near as scarce. "I'd be careful of the froth and hype surrounding the other battery metals," he warned investors at the gathering.

-- Ben Kilbey,

-- Edited by Alisdair Bowles,