Car Tech

This rare metal is hot, and that could hurt electric cars

A 70 percent jump in the price of cobalt could raise problems for companies like Tesla and Apple.

Tesla Model S

Cobalt is a key ingredient in rechargeable batteries, like those found in electric cars.

Tesla

Deep in the earth there's a scarce, hard-to-mine metal whose price has already spiked by 70 percent in 2017, according to Quartz. And for companies to keep making billions of batteries for electric cars, cell phones and laptops, it's absolutely essential.

Give up? It's cobalt, a key ingredient in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Sixty percent of the world's supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), The Washington Post reported. Compounding the problem are alleged child labor practices that caused Apple to at least temporarily cut ties with certain mines (current status: suspended, a spokesperson confirmed to CNET).

So not only is cobalt hard to get, period, and even harder to get ethically, it's also now extremely expensive.

While scarcity is a problem for every industry using these batteries, getting hold of cobalt could hit the electric-car market hardest. For example, Tesla, perhaps the world's highest-profile electric-car maker, wants to produce 500,000 by the end of 2018 (it's already built 25,418 vehicles in the first quarter of 2017).

That's a lot of batteries, which means Tesla and its ilk would need a lot of expensive cobalt.

Tesla and Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.