Robust and ethical cobalt supply for the electric vehicle revolution

Cobalt is uniquely useful for making the high capacity, fast charging, long-lived, and safe batteries needed for wide adoption of electric vehicles. Unfortunately, the incumbent cobalt supply is ethically challenged, concentrated in unstable jurisdictions, and insufficient to meet growing demand.

Nearly 70% of today’s annual cobalt supply is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Only 15 years ago, the DRC was riven by the most violent conflict since the Second World War, and today, the country’s fragile peace is challenged with corruption and human rights abuse.

KoBold Metals is tackling this problem by finding and developing new, reliable, and ethical sources of cobalt. To do this, we have assembled the world’s top economic geologists, geochemists, and data scientists to pioneer Machine Prospecting—the application of statistical association modeling, computer vision, big data aggregation, and basic science to materially improve the pace and efficacy of natural resources exploration.

Mineral exploration has a proud legacy of carefully applying data to solve scientific problems in uncontrolled settings. Yet, today, exploration is a largely manual practice in which geologists visually scan spatial data looking for key features, guided chiefly by analogies, judgement, and intuition. The historic practice of manually searching disparate and unstructured datasets means that contemporary exploration efforts are not systematic, not comprehensive, and not fast.

KoBold Metals was founded by physicist and McKinsey veteran Josh Goldman, former ConocoPhillips Chief Reservoir Engineer, Jeff Jurinak, and me to apply machine learning techniques to mineral exploration. The KoBold Metals team further combines veteran mining executive Ian Pearce and world-renowned economic geologists  Dr. Murray Hitzman, Dr. Peter Lightfoot, Dr. David Broughton, and Dr. Lawrence Meinert, with top-tier Silicon Valley data scientists.

Building a highly scientific and data-enabled exploration firm requires meaningful and patient financial resources, so we partnered with Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) and Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV). BEV is backed by many of the world’s top business leaders and provides flexible and patient capital with a 20-year investment horizon, while a16z is the foremost software and data science VC firm.

KoBold’s Machine Prospector technology combines never before used datasets with conventional geochemical, geophysical, and geological data in statistical association models to identify prospects. Furthermore, since cobalt has been historically well-supplied as a by-product of copper and nickel mining, there has been minimal investment in understanding the physical processes behind cobalt ore formation, so we are making those basic science investments. An essential component of our technology is the interaction between our physics-based ore deposit models, which form logic rulesets to identify key features within the data, and statistical association modeling, which further defines those rulesets. Taken altogether, KoBold’s technology accelerates exploration by efficiently screening large regions, and makes our search more effective by identifying the most promising locations.

Cobalt enables electric cars to go further, charge faster, and last longer. More cobalt supply means better electric cars. KoBold Metals is doing the science, developing the technology, and making the investments to ensure a robust and ethical cobalt supply for the electric vehicle revolution.