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The financial markets have an unlikely new hero. In recent months, the best way to make a serious amount of money in a short amount of time has been to buy cobalt. The price per ton of the metal has soared by almost 70% already this year, driven by a near-insatiable demand for rechargeable batteries and the growing popularity of electric cars.

Cobalt is a key ingredient used in lithium-ion batteries that power everything from Apple products to Tesla cars. As it happens, the great cobalt boom of 2017 follows a bumper year for lithium, which rose by around 80% in price in 2016.

Bullish investors have pushed Tesla and Apple stock to record highs, but a steady supply of cobalt will be crucial to making their plans a reality. In part, fears about cobalt’s scarcity are behind the metal’s recent price surge. Cobalt is hard to get a hold of, and the market remains relatively small—93,000 metric tons were produced in 2016.

The biggest obstacle to boost cobalt supply is the fact that more than 60% of the world’s reserves are in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are serious concerns about how cobalt is mined in the DRC, with several investigations revealing horrendous practices, including the use of child labor. Last month, Apple said it had temporarily stopped buying cobalt mined by hand in Congo until working conditions were resolved. Tesla wants to make 500,000 electric cars in 2018, but also says it wants to source the cobalt from North America, which won’t be easy.

Trent Mell, CEO of First Cobalt, a new Toronto-based exploration company, says that Tesla’s plan is something of a “pipe dream.” One of the biggest challenges for the cobalt industry is that no other country has even 10% of the market, and “you have to go to the DRC for any meaningful supply,” Mell notes.

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