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Europe’s battery leadership can help clean up the global metals supply chain

Lithium-ion batteries hold the key to a future powered by clean energy. By enabling electric cars, ships, and planes, this versatile energy-storage medium is bound to help cut pollutants and greenhouse gases.

But all that progress will come at a cost. Battery manufacturing requires large amounts of metals, some of which, like copper and aluminum, are plentiful and easy to mine. The rarer materials like cobalt and lithium, though, often come from places rife with war and child labor.

About 70% of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and a 2016 Amnesty report found there is little doubt that at least 20% of the country’s cobalt supply involves the exploitation of children. Much of it ends up in China, where it’s packaged into batteries for smartphones, drones, and increasingly electric vehicles.

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