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Refusing to use “conflict materials” is a common norm which is taking shape between international societies. Just like the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (ROHS) pointed out in the same year, all products, must meet the requirements of the specifications in order to be authorized to be imported for sale.
In 2021 Conflict Materials will be completely banned in Europe and North America
The United States was the first country to take action, and in 2013, the USA clearly stated that in order for manufacturers to meet the specifications, they must disclose the sources of their raw materials and affirm that they do not contain any conflict materials. Meanwhile, in the European Union beginning in January 2012, related enterprises will be required to disclose the sources of their raw materials and show that they are not from nations which produce conflict materials.
Materials which are considered conflict materials are controlled by armed groups which use force to control their employees and methods of obtaining minerals that violate human rights. Furthermore, the use of these improper methods of obtaining minerals is most prominent in the African Democratic Republic of the Congo and its surrounding countries, including Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Uganda, Sudan, Tanzania, Luanda and Zambia. Because these minerals have rich economic value, the mining areas have become the focus of armed conflicts.
According to an investigation conducted by the International Peace Information Service (IPIS), these mineral areas are often located in remote areas and over half of the mineral areas are controlled by armed militants. These armed militant groups illegally collect taxes in the vicinity of mineral areas and force local residents into labor. In addition these laborers not only work long hours but also are subjected to extremely poor working environments in which manual labor and even child labor are practiced. The poor working environments and methods also frequently cause accidents in mines which lead to numerous deaths.
The primary conflict materials are tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold, also known collectively as 3TG. These minerals are indispensable materials for numerous everyday products and electronic equipment which utilize these metals, including computers, mobile phones, home electronics, and industrial applications.
Taking tantalum as an example, it is one of the main materials in tantalum capacitors, which are characterized by their small sizes and large capacities. In addition, they also feature excellent electrical conductivity, making them ideal for use in high-end electronics. As for gold, it is a more versatile precious metal, which in addition to being used in jewelry and other accessories, is also an important conductive coating material for electronic products.
E-Vehicles Have Emerged and Cobalt Has Become Another Focus of Competition
From another standpoint, with the emergence of e-vehicles, the demand for lithium batteries has also risen, which has brought about a significant increase in the use the use of cobalt and a corresponding dramatic increase in value. Between 2017 and this year, the price of cobalt has risen by over 200% in value, and according to statistics the average electric vehicle requires 15kg of cobalt. As it is utilized as an electrode material for producing lithium batteries, it has unlimited market potential.
Cobalt is not only used in electric vehicles. Currently, most lithium batteries on the market use this metal, including notebook, tablet, and mobile power bank. Therefore, the production of cobalt is expected to increase by at least 90,000 tons by 2025 to meet the market demand, a 90% increase compared with 2017. Cobalt mines have become the focus of the market.
In addition, the main sources of cobalt are in the Congo, and this region currently is currently home to over half of the world’s cobalt production. However, the situation in this region is also unstable, and cobalt minerals are the coveted targets of armed groups. Furthermore, the mining environments for cobalt minerals are equally poor and even child labor is utilized to extract minerals, hence the means of extraction are equally controversial.
Aside from this state of affairs, these cobalt mineral deposits are composed of cobalt arsenide, and aresenide is a toxic substance. Without proper precautions, if it comes into contact with a person’s body it will be harmful to the health of miners. As a result, there are frequent incidents of related poisonings.
The Use of Recycled Materials Reduces the Value of Conflict Minerals and Cobalt
What does the high price of cobalt and conflict minerals have to do with me? If you are a manufacturer, when a ban on the use of conflict minerals becomes a universal standard, suppliers which meet the standards will become the only option, and an increase in manufacturing costs will be inevitable.
If you are a manufacturer of raw materials, and you ensure the legality of the sources of raw materials, diversity will be the only option to maintain operations. Moreover, if you are a consumer, and you prefer to buy “fair trade” products, it will become an attainable goal. Currently, there are a few organizations which have launched what is known as the “Fairphone,” and the labeling of the raw materials in the production processes meet the requirements of fairness and public morality.
Recycling is the best method of solving the aforementioned issues.
If you think about it, if the majority of precious metals can be recycled from e-waste products in environmentally friendly and humane ways, this can alleviate the pressures of cost and material sources faced by manufacturers and providers of raw materials and have a beneficial influence on the high prices of conflict minerals and cobalt.
Currently, there is also an environmentally-friendly metals-stripping provider which provides highly effective and environmentally-friendly, metals-stripping solutions, and they can extract valuable precious metals, such as gold and silver from e-waste electronic products. UWin Nanotech is one such company, and their exclusive environmentally-friendly hydrometallurgy metals-stripping solution has the capacity to recycle precious metals such as gold, silver, palladium, tin, and copper from e-waste electronic products. Furthermore, the procedure is environmentally-friendly, highly-effective, and satisfies the requirements of low-carbon emissions.
In addition, UWin Nanotech’s metals-recycling solutions will first target components on the boards for disassembly and then utilize corresponding recycling prescriptions in accordance with their respective categories. This procedure not only reduces the volume of recycled objects, but also increases recycling efficiency.
It is worth noting that in addition to having solutions for the recycling of gold, silver, palladium, tin, and copper precious metals, UWin Nanotech is also engaged in the research and development of cobalt metals recycling technology for lithium batteries. Moreover, they have already had breakthrough results and are nearing the final stages of commercialization.
This new cobalt recycling solution features a comprehensive processing procedure for recycling, and it can be utilized sort out the various precious metal ions inside lithium cobalt batteries and ternary batteries to provide an extra step for use in the recycling of each of the materials. Furthermore, this recycling solution can separate out hidden arsenic toxins to ensure that all of the raw materials yielded are 100% non-toxic.
The advent of this solution will be of assistance in solving the problem of soaring cobalt prices while simultaneously slowing down the deteriorating situation of armed conflict in the Congo and contributing to the reduction of child labor and inhumane labor methods in mines.
(TR/ Phil Sweeney)
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