Samsung Electronics. Picture: REUTERS
Samsung Electronics. Picture: REUTERS

Samsung C&T Corporation, an affiliate of the world’s biggest smartphone maker, is in talks for a multiyear deal to buy cobalt from a miner in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), joining Apple in the global rush to secure supplies at the heart of the electric-car boom.

Samsung C&T has approached Somika to buy cobalt produced at its Kisanfu mine in the DRC after buying copper from the company for the past four years, according to people familiar with the situation. It is unclear how much cobalt will be bought and Samsung needs to complete tests on the shipping cost and potential users, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified as the talks are private.

Somika chairman Chetan Chug confirmed the talks with Samsung C&T but declined to elaborate because no agreement has been reached. The miner has been approached for talks by Chinese and Korean makers of cobalt products. "We typically do one year, maximum two years, and ensure we optimise the cobalt pricing," he said.

The talks between Somika and C&T, the trading arm of South Korea’s biggest business group and an affiliate of Samsung Electronics, shows the conglomerate is keen to capitalise on booming demand after cobalt prices have more than tripled since the start of 2016.

Samsung C&T declined to comment on the talks.

Cobalt is an essential ingredient in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries used in modern gadgets. While smartphones use about 8g of refined cobalt, the battery for an electric vehicle requires over 1,000 times that.

Two-thirds of global cobalt supply comes from the DRC, where there has never been a peaceful transition to power.