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Battery Boom Relies on One African Nation Avoiding Chaos of Past

Oct. 27, 2017, 12:49 PM

The cars of the future will depend increasingly upon supplies of an obscure metal from a country in the African tropics where there has never been a peaceful transition of power and child labor is still used in parts of the mining industry.

Most major automakers are pledging to build millions of electric vehicles as the world’s governments crack down on climate-damaging emissions from traditional-fuel engines. As a result, demand is surging for lithium-ion batteries and the materials needed to make them—including cobalt, a relatively rare substance found mostly in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The country formerly known ...