Billionaires invest in ‘Google Maps of the Earth’s Crust’
Some billionaires – Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Ray Dalio, among others –are investing in Kobold Metals, a start-up that is looking for new sources of cobalt via satellite images and mining data.
Cobalt and nickel
The start-up intends to create a kind of ‘Google Maps of the Earth’s crust’, and to offer scientific researchers the possibility to scan the globe using their computer or laptop in search of promising mining sites for cobalt and nickel.
The scientists will get the support of mathematical algorithms, which are capable to automatically analyze and combine the gigantic flow of data based on artificial intelligence. The ultimate goal of this search is to discover promising geological layers of soil containing (huge) amounts of cobalt.
Cobalt is the precious alternative product of copper and nickel. It’s an essential component of rechargeable lithium batteries used in almost any electronic device made by Apple, Google, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla: smartphones, laptops, electric cars…
This immediately explains why so many big names are interested in the start-up that was founded in 2018. The company is partly financed by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, an investment fund created in 2015 by Bill Gates, and using the money of more than a dozen fellow-billionaires, among which Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Richard Branson (Virgin Group), Ray Dalio (Bridgewater), and Jack Ma (Alibaba).
First in Canada
Kobold Metals’ priority is cobalt. At the beginning of July, the company took the first option on a large concession in the Canadian Québec. The main goal is to collect all kinds of geological data using artificial intelligence on this 1 000 km2 prospection area – almost as vast as New York. This process phase will take three to six months of intensive research.
Later, this can possibly lead to the start-up of a cobalt mine by an experienced mining partner. Kobold Metals will only explore, the mining rights will be resold to the mining partner.
The choice for Canada is no coincidence. The main goal is to make the American technology giants less dependent on the controversial cobalt production in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 65% of today’s cobalt comes from.
A large part is dug out manually, often in unsafe, open mines, where dangerous working conditions and exploitation are run-of-the-mill. With consequences for the technology giants.
Last December, Tesla, Apple, Dell, Alphabet, and Microsoft were taken to court in Washington by human rights organization International Rights Advocates and fourteen Congolese families. The companies were accused of ‘helping and inciting to’ child labor.
Meanwhile, more and more technology companies, however, are taking a different tack. A recent example is Tesla, which adapted some details in its contracts and now “guarantees that the supplied cobalt from Congo was excavated according to the applicable environmental standards and terms of employment.
Politically and economically correct
Kobold Metals takes advantage of this new trend. The young American start-up promises explicitly only to look for new mines in politically and economically stable countries, where cobalt is excavated in an ethical way. So, Congo, therefore, is excluded as a prospection area from the very start.