Metals of the Future
The automotive industry is facing new challenges with the expansion of electromobility. Mercedes-Benz Cars not only needs steel, aluminum, and copper for production. Increasingly also lithium, cobalt, and nickel. Metals of partially critical origin.
It was about the future of metals. And about the metals of the future. At the “Metals in the Future” conference in London. In March, over two days, more than 100 participants discussed how green technologies affect the supply and demand of metals in the long term. Which metals will be in greater demand in the future? Which will be in less demand? The participants all came from the world of metals. Producers, dealers, analysts. An exception: Sabine Angermann from Mercedes-Benz Cars. She is Director Procurement, Supplier Quality & Sustainability. Title of her lecture: “Importance of sustainability in supply chains.” This topic is important for Daimler AG: experts from Procurement, Compliance and Integrity work closely together to ensure a sustainable supply chain.
“The future of the automobile is electric. That is why we will electrify the entire Mercedes-Benz Portfolio by 2022. By 2025, we expect electric models to account for 15 to 25 percent of total sales”. Sabine Angermann sent out this message in advance of her lecture. This has nothing to do with metal at first. Or does it? “The expansion of electromobility is creating new challenges for the automotive industry, because many high-quality materials are used in the drive, battery and power electronics of an electric vehicle,” continues Angermann. And with that she had already come to metals.
Available in sufficient quantity, but …
Lithium, cobalt and nickel are needed primarily for the transition to electromobility. These metals are available today in sufficient quantity. In the long term, however, the supply will only be secured if these metals are dismantled and recycled in an environmentally and socially acceptable manner in reasonable quantities. Mercedes-Benz Cars does not directly buy many of the metals. The supply chains include many sub-suppliers. Suppliers are obliged by Daimler AG to vigorously communicate and control sustainability standards within the supply chain. These sustainability standards have been defined for years in the Daimler Supplier Sustainability Standards. Key components are requirements for working conditions and the observance of human rights. Child labor is explicitly prohibited. Together with colleagues from the divisions Integrity and Group Compliance these requirements are regularly reviewed and amended if necessary.
Trust is good, control is better
“Not only must the Tier1 supplier work sustainably, but the entire supply chain also has to be sustainable,” was the key message of Sabine Angermann’s lecture. To ensure this happens, Daimler is developing a risk management system for human rights in the supply chains. The goal is to identify risks early and take the appropriate actions where necessary. Mercedes-Benz Cars carries out “Supply Chain Walks” to control the supply chain. The starting point is the Tier1 supplier and then the path goes through the entire supply chain. Down to the mine. Angermann: “These on-the-spot checks are done by our 700 quality engineers and sustainability experts.” And what happens if the sustainability standards are not met? “If necessary, we separate ourselves from a supplier,” Angermann stated.
Daimler has been investing in resource-efficient technologies and manufacturing processes for batteries for years. The goal is to increase the energy density. To save more energy with the same volume. And: The material composition of lithium-ion batteries will change. The usual mixture of equal parts of cobalt, nickel, and manganese is likely to be a thing of the past. Because cobalt is largely being replaced by nickel. Starting in 2025, people will rely on post lithium-ion technologies. Without nickel and cobalt. The future of the metals needed for the automotive industry is therefore very dynamic.