Ford, Huayou Cobalt, IBM, LG Chem, RCS Global launch blockchain pilot to address concerns in strategic mineral supply chains; cobalt to start
Ford Motor Company, Huayou Cobalt, IBM, LG Chem and RCS Global will use blockchain technology to trace and validate ethically sourced minerals in an effort to support human rights and environmental protection while helping infuse more transparency into global mineral supply chains.
The group, which includes participants at each major stage of the supply chain from mine to end-user, will begin with a pilot focused on cobalt and explore the creation of an open, industrywide blockchain platform that could ultimately be used to trace and validate a range of minerals used in consumer products.
We remain committed to transparency across our global supply chain. By collaborating with other leading industries in this network, our intent is to use state-of-the-art technology to ensure materials produced for our vehicles will help meet our commitment to protecting human rights and the environment.—Lisa Drake, vice president, global purchasing and powertrain operations, Ford Motor Company
Cobalt is in high demand for its use in lithium-ion batteries, which power a wide range of products such as laptops, mobile devices and electric vehicles. Morgan Stanley expects cobalt demand to multiply eightfold by 2026, especially for its use in electric vehicles and consumer devices. The typical electric car battery requires up to 20 pounds of cobalt and a standard laptop requires around one ounce of the mineral.
The blockchain pilot is already underway and seeks to demonstrate how materials in the supply chain are responsibly produced, traded and processed.
For this pilot based on a simulated sourcing scenario, Cobalt produced at Huayou’s industrial mine site in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will be traced through the supply chain as it travels from mine and smelter to LG Chem’s cathode plant and battery plant in South Korea, and finally into a Ford plant in the United States.
An immutable audit trail will be created on the blockchain, which will include corresponding data to provide evidence of the cobalt production from mine to end manufacturer.
Participants in the network will be validated against responsible sourcing standards developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Traditionally, miners, smelters and consumer brands rely on third-party audits to establish compliance with generally accepted industry standards. Coupled with these assessments, blockchain technology offers a network of validated participants and immutable data that can be seen by all permissioned network participants in real time. Blockchain can also be used to help network participants address their compliance requirements.
While the initial focus is on large-scale miners (LSMs), an important objective of the group is to help increase transparency in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASMs) and enable these operators to sell their raw materials in the global market, while they meet their internationally ratified responsibility requirements.
The network can help enable ASM operators to partner with due diligence data providers and, ultimately, join a blockchain-based network of validated participants. The pilot will also explore the use of incentives or financial benefits for ASMs and their local communities impacted by mining.
Hyperledger Fabric is a blockchain framework implementation and one of the Hyperledger projects hosted by The Linux Foundation. Intended as a foundation for developing applications or solutions with a modular architecture, Hyperledger Fabric allows components, such as consensus and membership services, to be plug-and-play. Hyperledger Fabric leverages container technology to host smart contracts called “chaincode” that comprise the application logic of the system. Hyperledger Fabric was initially contributed by Digital Asset and IBM, as a result of the first hackathon.
The IBM Blockchain Platform is built on Hyperledger Fabric’s open architecture. The Blockchain-as-a-Service platform unlocks opportunity in a hardened, security-rich, production-ready environment, including 24x7x365 IBM support.
The solution is built to allow interested parties of all sizes and roles in the supply chain easy access, including original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) across the automotive, electronics, aerospace and defense industries and their supply chain partners such as mining companies and battery manufacturers. Supply chain networks will be encouraged to join this open, industrywide network to trace and validate minerals upon successful completion of the pilot.
Work is expected to be extended beyond cobalt into other battery metals and raw materials, including minerals such as tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold, which are sometimes called conflict minerals, as well as rare earths. Focus industries for the solution include automotive, aerospace and defense, and consumer electronics. There are plans for a governance board representing members across these industries, to help further ensure the platform’s growth, functionality and commitment to democratic principles.
The pilot is expected to be completed mid-year 2019.
MineHub blockchain project. Separately, mining technology company MineHub Technologies announced a collaboration to use blockchain technology to help improve operational efficiencies, logistics and financing and reduce costs in the high-value mineral concentrates supply chain—from mine to end buyer.
Goldcorp Inc., ING Bank, Kutcho Copper Corp., Ocean Partners USA Inc. and Wheaton Precious Metals Corp. are working with MineHub to build the new mining supply chain solution on top of the IBM Blockchain Platform.
The $1.8-trillion global mining and metals market has traditionally suffered from inefficiencies due to manual, paper-based processes and a lack of transparency between supply chain participants. Blockchain technology helps address this by providing a shared ledger to create a single, real time view of transactions and data across the supply chain that can be seen by all permissioned participants. Each of the participating companies represent key areas of the supply chain from mining, streaming, trade and finance.
The first use case will be built on the MineHub platform and will manage concentrate from Goldcorp’s Penasquito Mine in Mexico throughout its path to market. When ore is mined, the mining company will upload data, including sustainability and ethical practices, allowing independent verification from regulators to end users as required.
When materials are loaded for transport, the MineHub platform can record each transaction and allow permissioned parties to view and reconcile information throughout its journey. Smart contracts for supply chain processes such as trade finance, streaming and royalty contracts will be used by companies such as Wheaton Precious Metals and other institutions who provide credit facilities such as ING bank.
The MineHub supply chain platform is built on the cloud-based IBM Blockchain Platform, powered by the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Fabric. MineHub plans to expand the collaboration to additional members across the mining industry to encourage innovation and new applications using the technology.