Amnesty Report: Green Battery Technology Built on a Foundation of Child Abuse

Child Cobalt Miners in Kailo, Congo - Author Julien Harneis, source Wikimedia.

Child Cobalt Miners in Kailo, Congo – Author Julien Harneis, source Wikimedia.

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Amnesty International has released a shocking report, about conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the child labourers who mine much of the world’s Cobalt. Cobalt is an essential component of modern high capacity batteries, such as the batteries which power laptops, cell phones and electric cars.

The introduction of the report;

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: “THIS IS WHAT WE DIE FOR”: HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO POWER THE GLOBAL TRADE IN COBALT

This report documents the hazardous conditions in which artisanal miners, including thousands of children, mine cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It goes on to trace how this cobalt is used to power mobile phones, laptop computers, and other portable electronic devices. Using basic hand tools, miners dig out rocks from tunnels deep underground, and accidents are common. Despite the potentially fatal health effects of prolonged exposure to cobalt, adult and child miners work without even the most basic protective equipment. This report is the first comprehensive account of how cobalt enters the supply chain of many of the world’s leading brands. Company responses sought in the production of this report can be found in document AFR 62/3412/2016 available on this website.

Read more: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr62/3183/2016/en/

From the report itself;

More than half of the world’s total supply of cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). According to the government’s own estimates, 20% of the cobalt currently exported from the DRC comes from artisanal miners in the southern part of the country. There are approximately 110,000 to 150,000 artisanal miners in this region, who work alongside much larger industrial operations.

These artisanal miners, referred to as creuseurs in the DRC, mine by hand using the most basic tools to dig out rocks from tunnels deep underground. Artisanal miners include children as young as seven who scavenge for rocks containing cobalt in the discarded by-products of industrial mines, and who wash and sort the ore before it is sold.

It is widely recognized internationally that the involvement of children in mining constitutes one of the worst forms of child labour, which governments are required to prohibit and eliminate. The nature of the work that researchers found that the children do in artisanal cobalt mining in the DRC is hazardous, and likely to harm children’s health and safety.

The full report can be downloaded from here

Obviously the world is not about to give up on long lasting batteries for cell phones and laptops. But we can do something about electric cars.

Assuming electric car ownership becomes widespread, the amount of cobalt used in car batteries (which typically weigh 100s of kilograms) will utterly dwarf the amount of cobalt used in laptop and mobile batteries. A surge in demand for electric cars would create tremendous financial incentives DRC mining companies to increase production.

Increased production might benefit the child labourers in the long run, by forcing miners to replace child labour with technology, which would also create better paid, high skill jobs for their parents. But we can’t know for sure on what timescale this improvement will occur. In the short term, the easiest way to ramp up Cobalt production would be to expand the workforce, or to work the children harder, potentially pushing already intolerable work conditions beyond human endurance.

There is an alternative technology which would remove the need for batteries in electric cars. For over a decade, scientists have been investigating using powdered aluminium, to store electricity. The powdered metal can be burned, much like conventional fuel, but the burnt oxide waste can recycled back into metal powder. Using powdered metal as fuel would create an electric car experience very similar to gasoline cars – instead of having to wait for the battery to recharge, you could just fill the tank with fresh powdered metal at the gas station.

Clean fuels come in many forms, but burning iron or aluminum seems to be stretching the definition – unless you ask a team of scientists led by McGill University, who see a low-carbon future that runs on metal. The team is studying the combustion characteristics of metal powders to determine whether such powders could provide a cleaner, more viable alternative to fossil fuels than hydrogen, biofuels, or electric batteries.

Metals may seem about as unburnable as it’s possible to be, but when ground into extremely fine powder like flour or icing sugar, it’s a different story. The simile is an apt one because the metal powders are similar to flour or sugar in more than particle size. Almost anything ground so fine will burn or even explode under the right conditions.

Under laboratory conditions, the team found that the flames produced from metal powders were quite similar to those of hydrocarbon fuels and they calculated that the energy and power densities of a metal-burning engine would be comparable to those of a conventional internal combustion engine.

Read more: http://www.gizmag.com/mcgill-metal-powder-fuel/40869/

So why aren’t we all driving powdered metal cars? I have a theory.

First of course, there is the abundance of cheap gasoline, which removes any real need for now, to bring alternative fuels to market.

Secondly, government subsidies for current technology battery cars, removes the need to innovate.

As long as Champagne Greens get to drive their government subsidised battery cars, why should they care about the suffering of child labourers in the Congo? After all, they’re already happily ignoring the very real harm done to poor people in the USA, by the regressive energy taxes they champion, which help fund their little green perks.

Finally, a disclaimer – unless I’ve missed a reference, Amnesty avoids mentioning green technology in their report, though they must surely be aware of the connection between cobalt and electric car batteries. Perhaps there are interests and entrenched injustices which are too powerful, even for Amnesty to confront.

Update: The following is a CDC study into the toxicity of Cobalt. http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp33.pdf

121 thoughts on “Amnesty Report: Green Battery Technology Built on a Foundation of Child Abuse

    • So just what is it in a laptop or cell phone or electric car battery that is made of cobalt ??

      “””””….. a shocking report, about conditions …..”””””

      Well I thought it would be a report about shocking conditions; not a shocking report about conditions.

      Apparently there are actually industrial mining operations in the DRC that mine cobalt.

      So it is not clear to me that the problem is the use of cobalt for industrial purposes. Are they saying that most of the industrial usage of cobalt is from hand mined cobalt and not industrial mines.

      Elements like cobalt, are not typically used anywhere that the spec calls for a metal gizmo. It is quite common for industrial processes or products to simply not function at all, if you change the element required, to some other element.

      Cobalt would not be a good choice to use in a place where copper wire was specified. Even aluminum is not suitable to use in a place where a copper wire would normally be used.

      So just what do car/laptop/cellphone/whatever batteries use cobalt for ??

      g

  1. Reality check ! Environmentalists don’t care about Human suffering ! They want ALL Humans gone…except for themselves of course !

  2. So Cobalt in your laptop is okay but not in car batteries. So shouldn’t you give up your laptop for starters, because you don’t own an hybrid anyway? Or…Should you not help too get laws in the Congo that protect workers? Or would that make your laptop batteries too $$?

  3. I designed a green battery. I really did in about 1993. The electrolyte is sea water and the precipitate is sea salt. The cathode is carbon fiber. The anode is a secret. 15 cells….12V for 10 hrs at 1 amp. 20 year shelf life.

    The trouble is I need legions of poor brown people to mine and ingest the ore so that they can urinate the metal salts into my anode factory.

    Lotta Hitschmanova liked the green part, but really didn’t like the brown part. Oh well, back to the drawing board.

  4. Correct me if I’m wrong on this since I don’t have the numbers to back me up, but doesn’t it take a huge amount of energy to separate the aluminum from the base metal, then you need to grind it into powdered sugar. Barring a massive investment into nuclear power, (since solar can’t do the job) wouldn’t this plan involve pumping even more life giving CO2 into the atmosphere than gasoline or traditional batteries?

    I’m not saying that it would, I’m saying that I suspect that it might. The only way to figure it out would involve a lot of math and research with data that I don’t have.

    • Aluminium also yields a huge amount of energy when it is burned.

      I’m not saying this technology is market ready, and I agree renewables are unlikely to yield the kind of energy required to power a mass electric transport system, but the powdered aluminium system does offer a path to creating an “electric” car, whose range and refuel parameters would be similar to a gasoline car.

      • Powdered aluminium as fuel? Yeah good idea using half the ingredients of thermite /nod. What could possibly go wrong?

      • I saw a documentary on the Challenger disaster recently and they mentioned that either the liquid fuel tank or the solid boosters (I can’t recall which) had aluminum added to it (or them) which significantly increased the power.

      • To 3cents worth:

        Adding aluminum, usually in the form of aluminum perchlorate, to the solid boosters increases the thrust of the rocket due both to the energy of the combustion process and to the greater mass flow from the nozzle. (I only have a BS in Aerospace with no experience in the field, if anyone more knowledgeable wishes to correct me if I’m wrong.)

      • @Bulldust: We already use either half the ingredients in a fertilizer bomb or half the ingredients in napalm.

        Don’t handle it like a toy and/or without the respect it deserves and you won’t die in a fertilizer, napalm, or thermite-fueled explosion.

    • Actually molten aluminum can be poured into a spinning piece of material used for grinding wheels. The metal is ejected through the pores of the spinning disc, size controlled by pore size. And the cooled ejected material is powder.

  5. Finally, a disclaimer – unless I’ve missed a reference, Amnesty avoids mentioning green technology in their report, though they must surely be aware of the connection between cobalt and electric car batteries. Perhaps there are interests and entrenched injustices which are too powerful, even for Amnesty to confront.

    I guess it’s easier to “confront” some remote dictator virtual than the pro-peace pro-nature “progressive” liberals living just next door.

  6. Eric – I don’t know whose idea this burning metals for energy is, but it doesn’t seem sensible to me. The metals quoted – iron and aluminum – occur as oxides in nature. They are reduced to metals by fossil fuels (coke) and/or large quantities of electricity. That’s why aluminium smelters are usually found close to hydro-electric plants. So burning them back to oxides only returns them to their native state. The energy budget for the oxide-to-metal-to-oxide is far from neutral because of the energy used in mining and transporting, plus energy losses in the smelting process.

    Bad idea. Unless of course the smelting is powered by windmills and solar panels.

    • Indeed. Aluminium is a battery, not a fuel – the same as hydrogen is. In fact I seem to remember an aluminium powere car on Tomorrows World, introduced by Raymond Baxter, which dates it to the mid ’70s or before. Nothing new about aluminium as a battery.

  7. “Child Labour” — Congo cobalt mine (BBC)

    (youtube)

    Metorex, mentioned in the above video about cobalt mining, is a subsidiary of a Chinese Company. China has been building infrastructure (broad highways, for instance) in Africa for many years, now, to gain raw materials and…. to exploit the powerless poor, desperate for any kind of job. Caveat: the video was posted in 2006, perhaps, Metorex/China are no longer using child labor. Someone is, though. And the above video, at least, documents the typical working conditions.

    The Jinchuan Group is a mining company based in China. As a holding company to Metorex, Jinchuan produces the following minerals and metals …

    (http://www.metorexgroup.com/ )

    The website has a “Contact Us” tab…. I’m sure they would listen very carefully to anything we might have to say to them….. and then laugh and press “Delete.”

    Slave labor is socialism in action.

    Capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings.
    Socialism is the equal {or nearly so} sharing of misery.

    Sir Winston Churchill (quoted from memory only)

      • I think what Paul Westhaver and others are missing here is this “The nature of the work that researchers found that the children do in artisanal cobalt mining in the DRC is hazardous, and likely to harm children’s health and safety.” The issue isn’t simply that it’s child labor, but that the work is hazardous, and likely to harm their health.

      • I believe the point that you are missing is that the children are doing this work because they lack better options. Forcing them to stop doesn’t mean that they will go out and get better jobs, it means that they and their families will starve.

      • MarkW hit the nail on the head. People want to live a little longer – and sometimes they are willing to sell their future. Starve now? or live to a future where maybe the problem can be fixed? A bird in the hand kind of thing. Why worry about a future problem when the current problem is starvation?

      • Neh. I never missed that.

        It is dangerous for adults… everyone, I am worn thin with the “think of the children” crowd.

        If it were healthy adults, retarded adults, old people, children, pregnant women, etc it is still dangerous.

        The situation is a symptom of a much bigger problem in the leadership of the country.

      • My point had nothing to do with “for the children”. It was the attitude by many that the best way to help these people, children included, is to stop buying the stuff they are producing.
        Such a move may make you feel good about yourself, but it will actually hurt those that you claim you are helping. The only solution is to fix the political system that is impoverishing these people.

      • Sorry Mark W. I was clumsy. My comment was meant to be directed to Bruce Cobb’s. I did not detect ” OMG we must do SOMETHING.. for the children” in anything you said.

      • Fen’s Law:

        The Left believes none of the things they lecture the rest of us about.

        They couldn’t care less about African children. If they did, they would be taking up collections to help them. This is nothing but guilt politics.

    • And, yes. If it makes my phone cost more to be child-labor-free (and adult-misery-labor-free), so long as it is the free market setting the price, I am more than willing to pay for the increased cost of production/unit.

      • The correct US government response should be to tax incoming products from these mines, raw and finished, at a rate that holds the cost to consumers to the actual cost of the product if minimum wage laws were in effect and enforced. That money would be excluded from the general fund and targeted for spending in the Congo and other similarly staffed mines, specifically to compensate the minor miners and others who are not now earning a minimum wage. The immediate market response will be for nations all over the world that have the needed raw materials to develop those resources and bring them to a market subsidized by the very consumers of those resources. Any nation that fails to cooperate falls off the allowed buy-from list, and products from nations that continue to buy from those nations will not be allowed to sell their products in the US. That will produce an excess of product and that will keep the price down as nations compete. Eventually the mines will close because there is no longer any profit to be made, and we will learn to do without those resources about the same time the products created with those resources become unaffordable. Finally, the miners, minors and otherwise, will be unemployed and likely unemployable, victims of corporate greed and deemed worthy of gobs of foreign aid. Hopefully by then the Mr. Fusion Home Reactor that powered the DeLorean time traveler will be a reality.

      • Since we started talking about the Congo kids and then migrated to China’s involvement, I figured I’d toss out there that China isn’t doing too well. They are sitting on over 30T in expansion debt (debt they created internally to finance their growth). If you think the dollars that they own will help stabilize them, I doubt 2T goes far enough.

        Child labor matters, but if China implodes financially like we did in 2009 … the rest is just bad. CAGW will be seen by the history books as “while the world chased imaginary problems, the biggest one ‘snuck’ up on them”.

      • I sympathize with you, but putting these kids out of work will not help them.
        They work because their families do not have enough money to live on.
        It’s easy to say that they should find other jobs, but where? If those other jobs already existed, would the kids be doing this kind of labor in the first place?

        Yes, find someway to help, but the problem is a lot harder to crack then merely declaring that we will no longer buy products made by child labor.

        The only long term solution is to improve the local economy so that their parents can earn enough on their own to support the family.

      • The cost of Cobalt is not reduced by paying children less. Or adults. It has a value on the international metals market based of supply and demand.

        The profiteering is done by the (largely) Chinese middlemen and refiners. There is a minimum concentration needed to make it worth shipping ore to China for refining. I asked a frontline buyer named Michael what he thought about the bribing of governors and everyone down the line. “It doesn’t come out of my share,” he said. In other words don’t leave the grafting officials out of the profiteers’ list. An increase in the price of cobalt will not put a sou into the hands of the miners, whether forced, slave or child labourer.

      • The correct (US) government response would be to butt out. There is no precedent, where taxing anything was helpful to the poorest people.

        G

    • Hmmm…

      So what is wrong with child labor? In principle it is labor for wages I suspect.
      It isn’t slavery.

      I was a child once and I relished the opportunity to work hard, raking leaves, shoveling snow, picking dandelions, digging drainage trenches, selling lemonade, tapping maple trees.

      I don’t see labor as punishment, it is a gift. Especially if you can get money in so doing. I learned how to work hard and I still do.

      I think the notion of “child labor” needs to be better explained.

      • Mr. Westhaver. Did you WATCH that video?

        Yes, of course, we need to define “child labor” which is cruel and child labor which is acceptable.

        I, also, like you, worked in summer jobs such as picking raspberries and roguing spinach and working year-round on my paper route as a child (I was 9 years old when I started). Unlike you, I did not relish it. LOL — most children, healthy children, like to PLAY. Well, so, you were weird. Good for you. We DO agree that: work is good.

        And that definition of terms is important.

        You seem to be overlooking the point, here, though… .

        Janice

      • Hi Janice,

        I very much like your posts and I am not trying to be provocative, so please be patient with ,me.

        I know of cases of children who must work or they will not eat. The world is not like my neighborhood. I know a young man, from India who worked making rugs, with all his siblings. They made money and bought food and medicine. He was very happy to have his rug weaving job. (he now has his PhD.)

        I used to shun buying hand woven rugs because of the implication that I was “supporting” child labor. He told me he was thankful for the occupation…he ate. Now I buy things knowing that peoples with different political systems will not go hungry on my account. I work to help them otherwise through reputable charities. I work to bring down bad political systems as a separate effort.

        The summer break is a legacy of bygone days when children were needed to help with the harvest. Arguably a happy festive time, as well as hard work and long hours.

        So what is the problem with child labor? Exploitation? Well, I know very few people who are not exploited.

        Owning people is wrong. Cheap labor is a fact of life. I think the moral breaking point is intent.

        I made my children work hard in their chores and in their studies. Yes they had time for play as I do.

        …I never saw my mother take a day off in her life….

        I detect a tone of moral justification for socialism prostituting the specter of child slavery as a canard. I’ve seen this before. 1917…

      • Paul Westhaver:

        Well said! Especially

        I used to shun buying hand woven rugs because of the implication that I was “supporting” child labor. He told me he was thankful for the occupation…he ate. Now I buy things knowing that peoples with different political systems will not go hungry on my account. I work to help them otherwise through reputable charities. I work to bring down bad political systems as a separate effort.

        Richard

      • Paul Westhaver: I go along with your arguments. I know of quite a few families where children were doing household chores, such as sitting their younger siblings, cleaning, gardening, or are working in the fields to help their parents. After all, the family has to live. Of course there are limits as to what children can and should do. An industrial work environment with hard physical work and strict work hours is not what children should be exposed to..

      • In this country, child labor was common until capitalism improved worker productivity to the point where the parents were able to produce enough to feed the entire family without it.

        That is what is needed in these countries. At present because of corrupt political systems, worker productivity is so low that parents, on their own cannot earn enough to feed the entire family.

        The problem is poor productivity, the symptom is child labor.
        Solve the problem, not the symptom.

      • Mark W,

        That is how I see it. Bob Geldof of Boomtown Rats fame became a hunger activist and coordinated the “Feed the World” effort promoted by musicians circa 1984 to help the hungry in Ethiopia.

        Raising money and buying food was the easy part. When trying to deliver the food, the trucks (and shiploads) of food and medicine were seized by the local tribal tyrants and used for barter for money and guns to support warfare.

        I am all in favor of any means available to get food, medicine, clothing, and education to the poor, even it is by way of children (whole families) making clothes with Sandra Bullock labels or I-phones. Poverty is not the fault of the poor or children, and work is not slavery. The problem is corrupt governments that restrict the flow of money which requires a different sort of approach.

        Also,

        My Dad lived in the Arctic in 1952 for 2 years, with the Inuit. There were no supermarkets, buildings, or trees. Subsistence was the norm. EVERYONE worked to survive ALL the TIME. This was in Canada in 1952. No schools, no play time. Games were martial and survival related. My Dad said that the Inuit were the hardest working people he had ever met.

        Survival first, Disneyland last.

      • Paul,

        I worked in my family’s wheat harvest from age nine, driving trucks and even combines. It was not always festive, but hot, dirty and exhausting. However it was fun being able to operate adult machinery.

        The strawberry harvest also used to be picked by American kids, but they were replaced after my time by adult Mexican migrant workers. It was good for us to work in the summer. I made what for the time was a lot of money.

      • Child labor. This is about 3rd world child labor. Life and death, not “spending money”.
        What allowed 3rd world type child labor to end in the developed countries was cheap energy to power industry. Then adults, even poor ones, had the means to care about their kids future beyond whether they would live or die.
        The hype is that “Going Green” is for the children but the reality is that denying or hindering cheap energy and industry to 3rd would countries (ie “The War on Coal”) is not only preserving 3rd world child labor but expanding it.

      • +10 for bringing the subject back to the focus of this website. The CAGW meme is wasting bazillions and harming the very poor they portend to support. Insanity.

      • Gloateus

        You are reminding me. I learned to drive at the age of seven, taught by a girl of six. We drove the tractor while the big’uns forked sheaves onto the wagon. Threshers were stationary back then. Without the kids there would have been less of everything.

      • “Paul Westhaver

        February 11, 2016 at 7:42 am

        Mark W,

        That is how I see it. Bob Geldof of Boomtown Rats fame became a hunger activist and coordinated the “Feed the World” effort promoted by musicians circa 1984 to help the hungry in Ethiopia.”

        My former wife, family and friends, benefitted from that effort, and believe it or not, some of that money is still working. The real issue is official corruption. Most of the money “disappears”. We also have to thank Oprah Winfrey for her support of the Fistula Hospital (You don’t want to know about what this is for young women) in Addis Ababa.

        Geldof and Bono seemed to think they were “Saints” after Live Aid. In fact Geldof received a Knighthood. Their effort was noble then, but now both have hitched a ride on the AGW gravy train that they can’t see that will hurt (Cheap energy) those they struggled for in the 80’s.

        Hypocrisy!

        I will never pay for a Geldof or Bono piece of work again! And I will certainly never listen to them when talking about poverty (In Africa) and climate change. They are both morons in that respect.

    • Slave labour is also capitalism in action, imperialism in action, and feudalism in action. Slavery for Scottish miners was only effectively abolished in 1799 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_coal_mining see also http://www.scottishmining.co.uk/429.html.

      The only defence is individual rights (including the right of association even to joining trade unions).

      Note that there is no need to urge the DRC to pass laws against this sort of thing. They already HAVE such laws: “The Congolese Law on Protection of the Child sets the minimum working age at 16 and prohibits all hazardous forms of child labour and sexual exploitation” http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/drcongo_67998.html and “The Democratic Republic of the Congo has ratified all key international conventions concerning child labor” http://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/congo_democratic_republic.htm

      They just aren’t terribly effective at enforcing the laws they’ve got.

      • Sorry dude, but slavery is pure socialism. Under capitalism the worker is free to keep or trade the products of his labor as he sees fit.

      • “MarkW

        February 11, 2016 at 6:40 am”

        Are you suggesting slave traders, and slave “owners”, did not capitalise on “slave products”? Really?

    • Remember Janice, in Africa video of a bunch of people digging stuff out of the ground can be easily had. Anything like this published by the BBC should be disregarded until independently verified.

  8. yeah- make sure those poor families have nothing to do to earn a crust.
    then, to save them from starving, send aid and put them on a dole.
    it may put 110,000 to 150,000 artisanal miners out of work, but it will more than make up for it by providing employment to 200,000 to 250,000 charity workers and administrators and donation solicitors and press agents – what the mining industry loses in low paying jobs, it will more than gain in high paying white collar jobs, see?

    • A lot of the kids probably won’t make it to adulthood, or if they do survive their “childhood”, they will likely have badly impaired vision and hearing.

      In the West, Cobalt toxicity is well known, due to problems with cobalt leaching from worn hip bearings.

      It only takes around 20g of Cobalt to kill a full grown man. I wonder how long it takes those kids to absorb a lethal dose of Cobalt?

      http://www.thepoisonreview.com/2011/07/26/neurological-changes-and-hip-prosthesis-consider-cobalt-toxicity/

      • yeah, really. that’s the common sense question to answer before depriving the locals of a living and inflating the wealth redistribution industry to compensate for the voluntary.. oh, wait- before forcing anybody not to work- and presumably killing anybody who won’t obey the new decree by the ‘i wanna pony’ activist who are again waving ‘de babbies’ in my face.
        i mean- it might be like the 6 microcephalics known to have moms that were zika infected which has blossomed into a right fine revenue stream in mere days!
        (not to mention what a vehicle for birth control and abortion in those catholic countries, right? microcatholics…lol)

        *up to the reader to apply reason to the above writing – that’s what satire is about – but i smell Poe’s Law

      • more really good questions to answer are:
        do you think it’s your job to tell somebody what he should do or what his kids should do?
        and if so, will you enforce your will on them if they disagree with the way you wish to dispose of their lives?
        and if so, will you use your own muscle or will you expect some other person to implement your will upon them?

      • I see – gnomish thinks that working in a cobalt mine for shifts which last up to 24 hours, getting filthy with cobalt bearing dirt, washing lumps of cobalt while standing in pools laden with toxic cobalt salts, eating on mine premises, breathing the dust, drinking cobalt contaminated water from any convenient local source, no safety equipment, can be compared to a nutrition study which tested the health impact of 3 months exposure to a single dose per day of a supplement which contained 1mg of cobalt per dose.

      • now why would somebody pretend to know the hours and working conditions of the “artisanal miners” there?
        i only see pics of dirty children and the word cobalt – almost said carbon.
        and the conspicuous absence of anything to establish what degree of harm.
        there’s no explanation of context, either.

        how is this not a pitch to get somebody not concerned to be concerned?
        what’s the real purpose of this boatload of argumentum ad passiones?

      • “argumentum ad passiones?”

        Do you find it interesting that arguments of passion are met by arguments of the extreme ?

        Great discussion btw. I would bet money that if debators at the tables had real skin in the game, they’d eventually be forced to a more reasonable line of argument.

      • i take that back- the pdf has plenty of context:

        Artisanal miners in the DRC work in a range of different
        ways and locations to mine cobalt. In some places,
        the miners dig deep underground to access the ore.
        These miners, who are mainly adult men work
        underground in tunnels and use chisels, mallets and
        other hand tools. In other places, miners, including
        many children, dig for cobalt in the discarded tailings
        (by-products such as rocks left over from mining and
        refining processes) of the region’s many industrial
        mines. They collect rocks containing minerals that
        lie on or near the surface, most often without the
        companies’ permission. The stones they pick are
        then washed, sifted and sorted in streams and lakes
        close to the mines. Generally, women and children
        are involved in washing and sorting the ore.
        The way these artisanal mining operations are
        managed and organised varies from site to site. For
        example, the adults and children who handpick
        stones on or near the surface of industrial mining
        concessions work for themselves. They sell the ore to
        traders or intermediaries. By contrast, some miners
        who dig underground do so as hired labourers, earning
        a fee from the owner of the land where they work,
        while others work in teams or share their earnings
        with mine owners. Some miners also have a business
        arrangement with an investor, who funds the digging
        of the tunnel and manages the sale of the product.

        if that’s true, then who’s forcing anybody to do anything they don’t want to do when they want to do it for whatever reasons they have? (it’s hardly wrong – except maybe lack of permission to work the tailings)
        but i do see somebody wanting something done about that – with all the consequences simply ‘unintended’.

        heh- what the activist fears most is crisis fatigue.
        when the wolf cries get boring and nobody cares any more – their product fails.
        let it fail.

      • Gnomish thinks the brain recognises and runs on glucose only (Wiki link heh!) and does not respond to different “sugars”, esp artificial and refined sugars etc, differently. Which it does.

    • gnomish – I assume you’re being ironic, but it’s an interesting topic anyway. There’s a vicious cycle to break, and that’s never easy. But a few of the nice cheap reliable coal-fired power stations that Barack Obama has in the past so cynically arrogantly and despicably refused to fund for Africa would go a long way towards breaking the cycle.

    • @gnomish, in this specific case the mining companies are clearly breaking *Congolese* law.

      I don’t actually have a problem with children doing honest work that doesn’t threaten their health; since the Neolithic Revolution that has been a utopian vision for much of humanity.

      What I’m chiefly reminded of is New Zealand’s second most famous sermon. ‘In 1888 Waddell preached what must be the most famous sermon in New Zealand after Marsden’s Christmas day address in 1814. His pointed denunciation of “The sin of cheapness” led to reports in the Otago Daily Times about “the pernicious sweating system” which drove down wages for seamstresses below a living wage – in some instances, “in Dunedin to a worse degree than it does at home.”‘ http://roxborogh.com/REFORMED/waddell.htm He didn’t say not to buy clothes, but to buy them from firms that paid a living wage. This is Janice Moore’s position. It’s like buying Fair Trade coffee.

      • what’s cheap in the short term may be uneconomical in the long term – context matters.
        what’s more costly in the short term may be most economical in the long term – context matters.
        drop context and you can say anything. truth requires context.
        and aphorisms don’t really cover the details of any real life situation. it’s just chat. fills time.

        but i don’t speak any congolese or know anybody there.
        i’m surely not responsible for anything that’s not mine.
        i’m not to be held liable.
        it’s not my problem.
        don’t want anybody trying to make it my problem.
        i have my own, thanks.

      • richard- the pdf tells a story about artisanal miners that work when they want as much as they want and are completely separate from the industrial miners.
        it’s not alleged to be exploitation by mining companies.

      • It’s fine to say people should pay more so that others can have a higher wage.
        But what of the millions of people who barely have enough to get by as it is.
        Should they have to sacrifice food for their children because they are paying more for the clothes on their backs?
        A person’s wage is based on their productivity. What is the value of what they produce in a day? Value of a product is determined by what consumers are freely willing to pay for an object.
        If you want to increase a person’s wage, there is only one way to do it. Increase their productivity.
        Demanding that other’s pay more, merely changes the distribution of poverty.

      • “It’s like buying Fair Trade coffee.”

        Well there is our libertarian answer. You buy from whom you please for reasons known only to you and I do likewise and for reasons known only to me.

        Dell, HP and other companies could publish a little 200 page book and ship with each computer describing the exact sources and circumstances of everything used in their product; right down to the name of the person that dug out that rock that became smelted to tantalum that became a capacitor in the power supply of your computer.

        Of course there’s the problem of such book being truthful.

        Or, for that matter, any news report coming from the Congo.

      • Well it is all very fine to say ” people should pay more ” (for goods and services) so that others can have a ” living wage “, but what about those other workers who entirely lose the job they had, in order for the employer to pay that higher ” living wage “.

        And how does that solve the problem of those now receiving that higher ” living wage ” if everything that they buy NOW costs them more ?

        I believe that this revolutionary economic solution, began with the premise: ” people should pay more “.

        Yes and some of those ” other people will lose their job altogether “.

        Just happened at Walmart for example.

        G

        Higher ” living wages ” lead to automation.

      • Talking of people losing their jobs. Banking, and ATM’s. Banking and actual tellers in a branch, ANZ considering robots to replace people. So the “utopia”, with automation as “sold” to us, never happened. People lost jobs and robots took over (Car mfg as an example).

  9. The next time a warmist weeps, “Oh, but what about our children” to me, I’ll refer them to this page.

  10. If First-World “environmentalists” actually cared about the environment, they would encourage mining in Canada, Europe and the US, where health-and-safety and environmental controls are rigorous and enforced. But, of course, then they would have to acknowledge the materials that they use are the cause of this mining. Out of sight, out of mind, smug self-righteousness can prevail!

  11. Ya know…. I think it might be good to take a step back, just for a moment,….. and remember that, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is still alive and well, throughout the whole world.

    “Acts of Kindness Caught on Camera in 2012”

    (youtube)

    There is hope.

    • Um – metals have been used as solid rocket fuels for years. Your standard military rocket is solid fueled due to the stability of this sort of rocket fuel.

      Rocket Fuel

      A solid rocket fuel or a solid-fuel rocket is a rocket with a motor that uses solid propellants (fuel/oxidizer). The earliest rockets were solid rocket fuel rockets powered by gunpowder; they were used by the Indians, Chinese, Mongols, Arabs, in warfare as early as the 13th century. Aluminum powder is used heavily in rocket fuels, and many variants are available to rocket hobbyist.

      All rockets used some form of solid or powdered propellant up until the 20th century, when liquid rockets and hybrid rockets offered more efficient and controllable alternatives. Solid rockets are still used today in model rockets and on larger applications for their simplicity and reliability.

      Since solid-fuel rockets can remain in storage for long periods, and then reliably launch on short notice, they have been frequently used in military applications such as missiles. The lower performance of solid propellants (as compared to liquids) does not favor their use as primary propulsion in modern medium-to-large launch vehicles customarily used to orbit commercial satellites and launch major space probes. Solids are, however, frequently used as strap-on boosters to increase payload capacity or as spin-stabilized add-on upper stages when higher-than-normal velocities are required. Solid rockets are used as light launch vehicles for low Earth orbit (LEO) payloads under 2 tons or escape payloads up to 1000 pounds.

      Ref: http://www.starmolecule.com/faq/rocket-fuel/

    • I’m not even sure about small quantities. The “Tin Man” in the Wizard of Oz was supposed to be Buddy Ebsen (Jed Clampet) but his makeup used powdered aluminum. He got so sick he had to be replaced. They used aluminum paste for Jack Haley’s makeup. (I don’t know how many scenes had to be re-shot.)

  12. Eric I appreciate your effort to make this issue entertaining, but this and sevral other article are a real reach.

    I’d suggest a higher editorial standard. This is pure nonsense.

  13. While we’re reading about carpets and rare earth’s, perhaps here’s another little eye opener. Multinationals in Mexico where of course it’s easier to such things. One river is nicknamed “The River of Death”.

    http://geo-mexico.com/?p=12928

    The bazillions wasted on CAGW could have been so helpful for so many real (Crichton) problems.

  14. Here, at election time in the U.S., is a serious and pragmatic idea: certify imports for labor and environment standards.

    This will boost the humane conditions overseas, and will protect the environment, while bringing jobs back to the U.S. Here is how it works…

    In “economics” class, I learned how, in the long run, it really is not good for a nation to be “protectionist,” setting high tariffs for imports. But when we open trade, we lose working-class, and middle-class jobs. Included in this is manufacturing jobs. The benefit is that we get to buy stuff cheap.

    Here is an alternative to boosting our U.S. job market in a way other than simple protectionist policies: require all importers to be certified in their production processes – that labor meets some nominal level of acceptability – bathroom breaks, etc., – and that the manufacturing process meets some nominal level of acceptable environmental impact – no dumping poisonous byproducts in the local river.

    The foreign firms can only export to the U.S. if certified. American-trained certifiers visit regularly. The foreign firms cover the expense, as is common on many industry certification and other credentialing schemes.

    Labor and production costs now rise – you cannot quite be an inhumane employer at rock-bottom wage – the employees at least have fair working standards, and waste streams must be managed – as they are in the U.S.

    We either enjoy inexpensive things made inexpensively overseas, or adjust to gradual price increases as jobs shift back to the U.S.

    As a side effect, we improve the lot of workers, and protect the environment.

    In the long run, ideally, labor costs will equalize, anyway. As it is now, they are “equalizing” – individuals are migrating to the U.S. to take the low wage which is lower than U.S. minimum wage, but is higher than what is available locally. And, our open-border cheap-labor policy is simply a variation on exporting jobs.

    is the idea perfect? No. but it is a lot better than anything else going as far as environment, worker exploitation, human rights, American jobs, etc.

    • One of the reasons some people here were and are opposed to the TPP is their belief that it will prevent “humane-labour tariffs” or at least make them expensively vulnerable to legal challenge from companies or countries that don’t like them.

      • Yes, an army of certifiers.

        You have worked at places that had auditors come in and look over your books, haven’t you? at my chain store, I was audited three times a year.

        All of your health care settings -your doctor, your hospital, their local x-ray site – have been swarmed somewhere in the recent couple of years by an army of auditors. Joint Commission, etc.

        Some of the best companies in the United States have been swarmed by an army of certifiers regularly. From ISO, from Baldridge, etc.

        Yes, an army of certifiers.

    • The problem with “certifying” environmental standards is just this: Which standards?
      We’ve been recently debating actions of the EPA that are clearly above and beyond what is needed.
      So do we force other countries to adopt EPA standards that even we don’t accept?

      • MarkW – good point. But the communists don’t want to bring down China – they want to bring down the U.S. So, no worries – the regs won’t go overboard.

  15. This issue is widespread in Africa. Also dumping of toxic waste (Since the 80’s) and dumping e-Waste for “recycling” which is recycled in possibly the most unhealthy way for the workers and environment. But that’s OK. Africa is thousands of miles away!

  16. Why are the children laboring? They need to eat. “Amnesty” prefers that they go hungry.

    The way to eliminate child labor is development. Social campaigns can only increase hardship. And Amnesty being left is against big corps (the guys with the machinery) and profit. Probably against development.

    Note: I was a child laborer in my Dad’s grocery store (call me Dobie Gillis). It did me good.

    • Normally I would agree with you, but a lot of those kids probably aren’t going to survive their “childhood”, or if they do, they will likely be crippled by cobalt toxicity diseases.

      • What we forget here in the comfortable west is that some places are still very hard. Reproduction rates are high because child mortality is high.

        And yes. A lot of people will be hurt or die during the development process. Trouble is all the do gooders have to offer is death sooner.

        Trouble is current western warmist policy is to keep Africa poor lest they emit too much CO2. Africa has been chosen for backwardness to “keep the earth from burning up”. Just think of all the CO2 China is causing. God forbid the Africans join in.

        I ask my warmist friends what they are going to do about China? Should we go to war with them to save the planet? Crickets.

  17. As a post script to what I mentioned above about Al ion batteries a quick search in the Journal of Electrochemical Society showed 2071 articles ( 1930 to present) , a worldwide activity.
    To alleviate the problem of child labour being used to produce materials of such importance both to “green” issues and general industry could not Obama use some of the 100billion dollars that he has set aside, after Paris, to lease or purchase the mines and institute a living wage and safe working practices .
    I have some vague memory that Henry Ford , needing rubber from Amazonia, set up a small city for rubber workers with proper wages , accommodation , health clinics etc . Could this be a template for a new US initiative to help the Congolese families?

      • And those high Temperatures and high pressures inside a high efficiency internal combustion engine end up burning the air itself, (the nitrogen in the air) gets burned to make NOx. Which is why such high compression engines aren’t allowed in the USA.

        Autos in the USA have to be able to run (properly) on regular gasoline. Higher octane premium fuels just help perpetuate the myth that those cars can run much further between tuneups. High octane fuel has less heat of combustion than regular gas.

        g

    • Henry Ford was a nasty man to his “imported workers”. And donated profits from Ford sales in Germany to Hitler. Enough said about that man.

  18. Why aren’t we driving powdered aluminium cars?

    I THOUGHT the posters here generally had an education? Well stand by to be educated.

    Any heat engine – steam, internal combustion, whatever, that seeks to turn heat into mechanical power suffers from the same basic limitations. You can’t get all the heat out., Some ends up in the ‘exhaust’.

    Te actual equation turns out to be a function of how hot the burning is, in absolute degrees Kelvin compared with how hot the final exhaust is, in absolute degrees kelvin. The hotter the burn, the better the efficiency (theoretically) and the colder the exhaust the better the efficiency (theoretically) .

    Which is why the MOST efficient heat engines ever built are combined cycle gas turbines, where the combustion temperatures are directly associated with the working fluid (gas) that drives the primary turbine, and the exhaust from that heats a steam plant, coupled to condensers and steam turbines, that get the final exhaust temperature down to something like 50 – 60 degrees Celsius.

    Efficiencies of around 60% are typical, compared with – say – 40 % at the very very best for a diesel and a bit less for petrol.

    By comparison the very best conventional steam plant powered by – say coal or nuclear – are around 30-35% and supercritical steam plant can push that up towards 40%. Of course if the fuel is dirt cheap (uranium) you are not looking to spend huge capital sums increasing efficiency.

    (By the way French nukes that use rivers to cool them deliver less in summer because the rivers are warmer…)

    A typical electric motor is at least 80% efficient if its built with any care at all, and mid to high 90% is possible. Likewise a battery in terms of charge/discharge is around 80%-95% depending on a lot of complex stuff we dont need to go into.

    What this means that in terms of using materials to store energy that release it as heat – hydrogen, synthetic diesel, powdered aluminium, your are already inferior efficiency wise to a battery electric car, and that is before you look at the efficiency of storing the energy in the first place.

    This is a major point that even quite technically savvy people dont get. There is no need to spend millions exploring the possibilities of a technology that relies on combustion (oxidation) and synthetic reduction of the residue, to know that it won’t be efficient or cost effective.

    I have had this argument with GreenTrolls till I am sick of it:
    ‘How do you know until you have tried it?’
    ‘Because the laws of physics don’t change’.
    ‘But that is just your OPINION’ they yell triumphantly.’And the laws of physics HAVE changed’
    ‘But this technology doesn’t rely on any new laws of physics, does it?’
    ‘That’s just your OPINION’.

    (What we need is some new understanding of matter and energy deep within the quantum realm that suggests a way of harnessing energy on an entirely new basis. Oh, hang on, we already have that. Its called ‘nuclear power’ :-))

    In terms of synfuel (and aluminium powder is just another synthetic fuel) my guess is that actually if you want to go that route, synthetic gas (hydrogen,methane, propane butane) or synthetic gasoline (sort of octanes ) or diesel or kerosene, is probably a more efficient synthesis than electrical reduction of aluminium oxide.

    Aluminium oxide is how we make aluminium in the first place

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aluminium_oxide

    And smelting that to aluminium is massively energy intensive
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hall%E2%80%93H%C3%A9roult_process

    So much so that in at least one case (Wylfa, UK) the construction of a nuclear reactor was justified on the basis that its output would feed a associated aluminium smelting plant.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglesey_Aluminium

    Hydrogen is probably the easiest synthetic fuel to make – a couple of electrodes in a tank of seawater.. but even that has its own issues with transport storage and safety, and indeed the efficiency is also pretty poor on burning too.

    By the way Cobalt is handy, but not necessary for lithium batteries, as you might have guessed, lithium is the key…

    http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/explaining_lithium_ion_chemistries

    Here endeth the lesson…

  19. LeoSmith,
    Thank you for clear light through the thick fog here, with broad energy analysis.
    My career was partly spent in mining. I am not here to cheer for it. It is a needs driven industry where desperate people must engage to survive in some regions and be thankful for the natural endowment. In other regions miners are able to do better and often contribute to human advancement in obvious ways.
    You will not solve the mineral related problems you invent, by regulation or suggestions or a quick idea researched while the coffee cools. The global metal demand equations are ever evolving to better ways handicapped more and more by bureaucratic idnorance and insidious social greed.

  20. Burning Aluminium produces corundum (Al2O3). This is the second hardest mineral after diamond and used in a variety of cutting tools. I am trying to get my head around the thought of any machine with moving parts surviving in clouds of microscopic corundum dust.

  21. Leo Smith,
    Thank you for clear light through the thick fog here, with broad energy analysis.
    My career was partly spent in mining. I am not here to chest for it. It is a needs driven industry where desperate people must engage to survive in some regions and be thankful for the natural endowment. In other regions miners are able to do better and often contribute to human advancement in obvious ways.
    You will not solve the mineral related problems you invent, by regulation or suggestions or a quick idea researched while the coffee cools. The global metal demand equations are ever evolving among very capable and mostly caring people finding ever better ways – but they are handicapped more and more by bureaucratic ignorance,malice, envy and insidious social greed evident in some of the astonishing interventionist suggestions above.
    Geoff

  22. On the other hand, what’s going to happen to those miners if the mines are closed?
    They wouldn’t take work like that if there were better opportunities available.

    Put pressure on the mine owners to clean up their operations while at the same time doing what can be done to free up the local economy so that other alternatives can have a chance.

    It’s easy to let the righteous indignation over what those miners are suffering get out of hand. However an actual fix for their condition is a lot tougher.

  23. I have learned through experience that any NGO report, here Amnesty, needs to be fact checked for spin.
    So three doses of reality for this thread.
    1. Only 15% of cobalt is mined directly as in this post. 85% is co-produced with copper and nickel ore. DRC does produce over half of the world’s cobalt– 45000mtpy out of 88,000 total. It is mostly from the copper belt of Katanga province, and copper mining is NOT artesanel. Amnesty said 20% of DRC cobalt is artesanel. OK, that is 2/3 of directly mined, 10% of the world total. A problem with child labor? Depends on one’s perspective on labor in poor countries, and options, as discussed upthread. A big problem for cobalt generally, nope, since cobalt concentrate is cobalt concentrate. You cannot tell the source except at the source.
    2. The major uses of cobalt are in magnetic steel alloys (Alnico) and high temperature alloys (gas turbines, high speed cutting tools), not lithium ion batteries. Amnesty is trying to ding Apple and TESLA, because they know they will be brushed off by the steel industry, GE, and Siemens.
    3. Only 1 of the 3 basic commercial lithium ion cathode chemistries uses cobalt. The other two, manganese spinel and LiFePO3, do not. The Tesla cathode is of the cobalt type, from Panasonic, because has the best power density. Dunno about Apple, but I suspect it is manganese spinel cathodes (best cycle life and energy density).
    See how Amnesty spun a factoid into an attempted PR crisis for Tim Cook?

  24. There are two glaring misconceptions in the otherwise good article.

    1. Batteries and the proposed Powdered Aluminum are NOT sources of energy. While they both may be decent choices for storing energy to be used later, it requires energy from some actual source to get them read to use. Hmm. Might the Powdered Aluminum be a way to store otherwise non-dispatchable solar & wind energy?

    2. An activity, dangerous or not, whether performed by adults or children, is NOT automatically bad. Before you call me a heartless S.O.B., I suggest that it depends on the alternatives. If it’s a choice between working in a dangerous job like mining (cobalt or otherwise) or starving, then the mining might be a better choice. It’s not for you or me to decide – it’s up to the people involved to decide which is the lesser of two evils in a particular situation.
    If you want to be a do-gooder, then stick your hand into your own pocket, and pay them not to choose to work in a cobalt mine. Otherwise, I suggest, you are doing evil by foreclosing options for the people involved.

  25. Artisanal mining has been around since the year dot, be it cobalt in the DRC, emeralds in Colombia, gold in Brazil or coal in China. Children are cheap labor and until energy become abundant, affordable and readily accessible, they will continue to be ruthlessly exploited. Fancy solar-powered and wind-powered are not even remotely cost competitive with fossil fuels and until that sophistry is dispensed with, this sorry tale of exploitation will continue.

    • “Fancy solar-powered and wind-powered are not even remotely cost competitive with fossil fuels and until that sophistry is dispensed with, this sorry tale of exploitation will continue.”

      Well it will still continue but at least they’ll have a better shot of moving on up the ladder with a nice fat cat diesel generator, shaker, hammer mill maybe … etc

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