Ethical Supply: The Search for Cobalt Beyond the Congo
Each new generation finds new uses for materials, and cobalt is no exception.
Historically, potters and painters used cobalt as dye to color their work. Today, a new cobalt supply chain is emerging to build the next generation of clean energy.
However, there is lack of transparency surrounding the current supply chain for cobalt, as the metal is subject to a number of ethical issues from its main country of production—the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Today’s infographic comes to us from Fuse Cobalt and uncovers the potential for new sources of cobalt beyond the Congo.
Cobalt’s Growing Demand
Cobalt’s specialized properties make it crucial for rechargeable batteries, metal alloys, and EVs:
- Thermal stability
- High energy storage
- Corrosion resistance
- Aesthetic appeal
As the markets for EVs and rechargeable batteries grow, the demand for cobalt is expected to surge to 220,000 metric tons by 2025, a 63% increase since 2017.
But can industry meet its demand with a supply of ethically mined cobalt?
A Precarious Supply Chain
In 2019, the DRC produced 70% of global mined cobalt—a majority of which went to China, the leading importer of mined cobalt and an exporter of refined cobalt.
Moreover, 8 of the 14 largest cobalt mines in the DRC are owned by Chinese companies, resulting in a highly controlled supply chain.
Why the Democratic Republic of Congo?
When it comes to cobalt reserves and concentrations, DRC looms over the rest of the world as a clear leader.
|Country||Cobalt reserves as of 2019 (tons)|
|Papua New Guinea||56,000|
|Rest of the World||500,000|
|World total (rounded)||7,000,000|
The African Copper Belt hosts the majority of the DRC’s cobalt deposits, where it is primarily mined as a by-product of copper and nickel mining.
Low labor costs, loose regulations, and poor governance in the DRC allow for the flourishing of artisanal mining and cheap sources of cobalt.
However, cobalt from the DRC is tainted by ethical and humanitarian issues, including:
- Child labor
- Hazardous artisanal mining
With the current supply chain of cobalt facing scrutiny and criticism, a transformation in the cobalt universe is well underway.
Cobalt’s Changing Landscape
As consumers become aware of the dirty costs of cobalt mining in the DRC, battery and EV manufacturing companies are looking for ethical sources.
Tesla, BMW, Ford, and Volkswagen are part of more than 380 companies that have committed to responsible sourcing through the Responsible Minerals Initiative. Responsible sourcing entails increasing supply chain transparency and searching for sources of cobalt outside the DRC.
Here’s how some companies are leading the way:
- Ford, Huayou Cobalt, IBM, LG Chem, and RCS Global are using blockchain technology to improve transparency and trace the sources of cobalt.
- BMW signed a $110 million deal for cobalt from Morocco’s Bou Azzar Mine, in an effort to avoid cobalt sourced from the DRC.
- Tesla agreed to buy 6,000 tonnes of cobalt annually from Glencore, a multinational company financing North America’s first cobalt refinery.
The U.S. recently added cobalt to its list of critical minerals—minerals for which it seeks independence from imports. The effort aims to reduce its net import reliance of 78% for cobalt, encouraging more localized and reliable production.
As a result of these shifts, the entire supply chain is beginning to reconsider cobalt sources in better-managed jurisdictions.
Cobalt Beyond the Congo: Why Not North America?
North America has comparable sources of cobalt to what is found in the Congo. As of 2019, Canada had 230,000 tons in cobalt reserves, whereas the U.S. had 55,000 tons.
Ontario hosts some high-grade cobalt deposits such as the Cobalt Silver Queen, Nova Scotia, Drummond, Nipissing, and Cobalt Lode mines.
In fact, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and other billionaires from the Breakthrough Energy Fund are already fueling the exploration and development of cobalt deposits in North America.
Unsung North American Potential
The United States is home to 60 identified deposits of cobalt. These sources along with Canada’s deposits, should provide explorers and miners with a massive opportunity to develop cobalt mining in North America.
As the EV industry booms with gigafactories in construction, will North American carmakers and other battery makers be able to pivot to ethical, local raw materials?
How Precious Metals Royalty and Streaming Companies Create Value
Discover how royalty and streaming companies offer a unique way to invest in precious metals and the mining industry.
Gold and Silver Royalty and Streaming Companies
Investing in precious metals often seems like it boils down to either buying the physical gold or silver or investing in shares of specific mining companies, both with their own very distinct advantages and risks.
Rather than having to settle for the simplicity of bullion or extensive research in individual mining companies, precious metals royalty and streaming companies provide investors with exposure to a diversified portfolio of miners’ revenues and produced metals.
These companies are not operators of mines. Instead, they seek to find undiscovered value by financing and working directly with miners to forge agreements that provide their shareholders with steady exposure to precious metals production.
This infographic from Empress Royalty outlines exactly how gold and silver royalty and streaming companies operate, and how they mitigate risk and create value for their shareholders.
What Do Precious Metals Royalty and Streaming Companies Do?
Royalty and streaming companies are an important part of the mining industry’s financial ecosystem, as they provide capital to mine operators and explorers in exchange for a percentage of revenue or metals produced from the mine.
Mining companies receiving this investment are able to further develop or expand projects, providing greater returns for both their shareholders and the companies with royalties and stream agreements on the projects.
These agreements typically last for the life of a mine, providing steady cash flow to royalty and stream holders while cutting out various risks associated with mining companies and operations.
“What it takes in the royalty business is patience and cash.”
– Pierre Lassonde, co-founder of the first royalty and streaming company, Franco-Nevada
The Difference Between Royalty Agreements and Streams
Royalty agreements and streams have similarities in their structure, but ultimately have some key differences.
- Royalty agreements, also called net smelter return (NSRs), provide the royalty holder a percentage of the mine’s revenue from production, typically around 1-3%. There are also other kinds of royalty agreements like net profits interests (NPIs), where the royalty holder receives a percentage of the profits rather than the revenue.
- Streams provide the right to purchase a certain percent (typically 5-20%) of metal production directly from the mine. Typically, streams will have an already decided purchasing price for the metal, which is usually either a fixed dollar amount or a fixed percentage of the spot price.
Royalties are more common than streams as they provide cash directly to the royalty company rather than the option to buy the physical metal which then needs to be sold.
While royalty and streams differ in what is delivered, both kinds of agreements avoid operational costs as they receive cuts from the top line.
The Growing and Diverse Landscape of Royalty and Streaming
The niche sector of gold and silver royalties has changed greatly since the founding of the original royalty business, Franco-Nevada in 1980.
While still fairly small today, the subsector has grown to have more than 10 companies with a market cap of $100M USD each, with five surpassing the $1B mark.
Here are the top 10 royalty and streaming companies by market cap:
|Company||Market Capitalization (USD)||Forward Dividend Yield|
|Wheaton Precious Metals||$17.8B||1.20%|
|Osisko Gold Royalties||$1.9B||1.39%|
|Metalla Royalty and Streaming||$368.3M||0.37%|
|EMX Royalty Corporation||$308.0B||0.00%|
Source: Yahoo Finance
While the three big names of Franco-Nevada, Wheaton Precious Metals, and Royal Gold tend to focus on larger and more secure ounce-producing agreements, the newer precious metals royalty companies start out by establishing a few cash-flowing agreements in their portfolio.
After this, they can begin targeting more speculative agreements with developing or exploration projects which are typically worth smaller dollar amounts and are slightly riskier or further from production, but have the potential of undiscovered upside.
Some royalty companies don’t even deal with mining companies at all, and focus exclusively on buying royalty and stream agreements held by third party companies or prospectors.
How These Companies Reduce Risk and Capture Upside
By avoiding many of the operational costs, royalty and streaming companies cut out a large amount of risk that is typically associated with mining investments.
In precious metal bull markets, it’s typical to see mining company revenues rise alongside the prices of gold and silver.
While mining companies’ operational costs will also rise, royalty and stream holders simply reap the benefits of high margins as they sell their physical metals at higher prices, despite having acquired them at lower fixed prices according to their agreement.
Another key advantage royalty and streaming companies have is their ability to diversify their portfolios and be selective with their agreements. This allows them to escape concentrated jurisdictional or asset risk and make agreements with mines which are already producing or close to production.
Since royalties and streams tend to last as long as the associated mine is operational, the holders of these agreements also benefit from any increased production or lifespan.
Royalty and Streaming Companies: Stable Exposure to Metals
As precious metals royalty and streaming companies are able to carefully choose their agreements and are overall less exposed to price downturns, they provide investors with a more stable investment in gold and silver.
Royalty and streaming companies typically have dividend policies which ensure shareholders are consistently rewarded with rising dividends, while many gold and silver mining companies cut dividends aggressively during precious metal market downturns.
As they help finance new projects and expansions, royalty and streaming companies take advantage of high margins in a unique form of financial arbitrage while providing their shareholders with stable exposure to precious metals and mining operations.
History of the Silver State: Nevada and its Silver Districts
Silver made Nevada the state it is today with its famous silver districts. Today’s infographic sponsored by Blackrock takes a look at the history of the state’s silver districts and where the future lies for silver.
History of the Silver State: Nevada and its Silver Districts
Nevada and its silver districts built the western territory into a modern American state.
Today, the world best knows Nevada for its modern gold production—however, a new generation is rediscovering Nevada’s famous silver districts and their potential.
This infographic comes to us from Blackrock Gold and outlines the history of Nevada and its legendary silver districts.
A Timeline of Nevada’s Famous Silver Districts
The Paiute, Shoshone, Quoeech, Washoe, and Walapai tribes populated the territory that is now the American state of Nevada before the Europeans arrived in the 18th century.
Nevada became part of the Spanish Empire as part of the greater province of New Spain, and then later Mexico after independence. As a result of the Mexican–American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico permanently lost Alta California in 1848.
The United States continued to administer the area as a territory. As part of the Mexican Cession in 1848 and then the California Gold Rush, the state’s area was first part of the Utah Territory, then the Nevada Territory in 1861.
However, the great Comstock mining boom of 1859 in Virginia City consolidated the area as part of the United States. Silver discoveries and mining spurred development and statehood, all by uncovering the famous silver districts of Nevada.
An eccentric Canadian from Trenton, Ontario, Henry Comstock gave his last name to a discovery that launched mining in Nevada. In 1859, Comstock revealed his discovery and sparked a silver rush, sending thousands of prospectors into Nevada and becoming the genesis of Nevada’s mining industry.
Accidental Treasure: The Tonopah Silver District
Over time, miners exhausted the initial discoveries of silver until the Tonopah District in 1900 revived silver mining in the state.
As the legend goes, Jim Butler discovered the Tonopah district and its silver-rich ore. He went looking for a pack mule that wandered off in the night and sought shelter near a rock outcropping.
When Butler discovered the animal the next morning, he picked up a rock to throw at it in frustration and noticed the rock was heavy. He had stumbled upon the second-richest silver strike in all of Nevada’s history.
Silver production exploded in Tonopah and peaked at 450,000 ounces a year in 1915. However, between World War 1, the Great Depression, and World War 2, the country was exhausted of workers, and silver production tumbled by 1950.
The early suspension of mining in the region left it ripe for new exploration and discovery.
Unrealized Potential in Nevada for Silver Discovery
Today the bulk of the current mining in Nevada occurs along the Cortez and Carlin gold trends in the northeast. However the state’s earliest discoveries lie in what is known as the Walker Lane Trend that extends the entire western border of the state.
Several companies have taken note and are applying modern exploration to a neglected area for a new generation of silver discovery, and the Tonopah lies at the center of the Walker Lane Trend.
It is in the Tonopah Silver district where the past of Nevada lies—and the future will, too.
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