The clean energy revolution is replacing oil and gas with a new global force: the minerals and metals needed to make electric vehicle batteries, solar panels and other forms of renewable energy.
Places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, which produces two-thirds of the world’s cobalt reserves, for example, are beginning to play the role that Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich countries once played. And race between China and USA securing supplies can have far-reaching implications for the overall goal of protecting the planet.
The New York Times investigation was based on interviews with more than 100 people on three continents and thousands of pages of financial, diplomatic and other documents. Here are some takeaways.
The United States is vulnerable to price shocks and supply shortages because it uses clean energy.
The US government has failed to protect the decades of diplomatic and financial investments it has made in the Congo, even as China positioned itself to dominate the new era of electric vehicles.
Sale starting from 2016, two large deposits of cobalt in the Congo by the American mining giant to the Chinese conglomerate, marked the end of any major US presence in the country’s cobalt mining.
Chinese battery manufacturers have entered into agreements with mining companies to ensure a stable supply of metal.
Beijing financed the purchase of mines in Congo, blocking a key supply chain.
According to data analysis, as of last year, 15 of the 19 cobalt mines in Congo were owned or financed by Chinese companies. Companies have received at least $ 12 billion in loans and other funding from government agencies and are likely to raise billions more.
The five largest Chinese mining companies in the Congo, specializing in the extraction of cobalt and copper, also had lines of credit from Chinese state-owned banks totaling $ 124 billion.
Race to the future
Participants in the clean energy revolution are increasingly caught up in a cycle of exploitation and greed for resources. At the heart of his quest for the precious metal: cobalt.
One state-backed company, China Molybdenum, which bought two American-owned mines, described itself by The Times as a “purely commercial entity” traded on two stock exchanges. Records show that 25 percent of the company is owned by the local government in China.
Congolese authorities have accused Chinese mining companies of defrauding the country over promised revenues and improvements.
Congolese are renegotiating past mining contracts with US government funding as part of a broader anti-corruption effort. They are also examining whether China’s promises to build roads, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure have been fulfilled.
In addition, Chinese molybdenum is accused of withholding payments to the government at its Tenke Fungurume cobalt-copper mine. The company said it had done nothing wrong and wondered if there were orchestrated attempts to undermine it.
In China, there is an idiom that goes something like this: “Where there is a desire to condemn, proof will follow,” the spokesman said. “I dimly feel that we might be drawn into the game of great powers.”
The Chinese purchase of the American-owned mine was facilitated by a firm with Hunter Biden on the board of directors.
Tenke Fungurume, one of the largest cobalt mines in the world, was controlled by the American company Freeport-McMoRan. Then it was sold in 2016 in a series of deals worth $ 3.8 billion with China Molybdenum. The sale was attended by a Chinese private investment company, which bought out the minority owner of the mine.
A member of the founding council of a private investment company was Hunter Biden, son of the American president… According to Chinese financial records, the Washington-based company, which was controlled by Mr. Biden, remains a shareholder in the firm. Chris Clarke, Mr Biden’s attorney, said his client “no longer has any interest, directly or indirectly,” in Washington and Chinese firms. Chinese documents show that he is no longer a member of the board of directors of the Chinese firm. Mr Biden did not respond to requests for comment.
When asked if the president was aware of his son’s involvement in the deal, a White House spokesman replied: “No.”
Chinese possession has boosted the world’s supply of cobalt, but workers are complaining of safety concerns.
Increased production and processing of cobalt by Chinese companies has helped meet growing global demand. But at least a dozen employees or contractors at the Tenke Fungurume mine told The Times that Chinese ownership resulted in a dramatic decrease in safety and increased injuries, many of which were not reported to management.
The company said the complaints were likely fabricated and that it actually increased security.
The United States is lagging behind in the race for minerals.
As the world turns to a future focused on electric vehicles, the United States is trying to catch up, although both Congress and the Biden administration are now taking their first steps. Legislation passed by the Chamber on Friday, it will provide more than half a trillion dollars to move the US economy from fossil fuels to renewable energies and electric vehicles…
Amos Hochstein, senior adviser to the State Department on global energy security, predicts that access to solar panels and electric vehicle batteries will determine energy security in the future.
“It is a national security imperative for the United States to make sure that the 21st century does not repeat the vulnerabilities of the 20th century,” he said.