On Oct. 16, in a bid to draw investors by providing a proven source of conflict-free minerals, Rwanda mining authorities announced a blockchain network to track the mineral tantalum – which is used in manufacturing most electronics such as mobile phones.
Rwanda announces world's first blockchain project to track tantalum from the pit-face to the refinery, part of a push to reassure investors it’s a conflict-free source of minerals.https://t.co/qNiC6L6GkX
— Charles Onyango-Obbo (@cobbo3) October 17, 2018
In All Your Household Electronics
Tantalum, a silvery transition metal, has become ubiquitous in the world of personal electronic devices and is used in everyday items from smartphones and hard drives to video gaming systems. Its utility has caused it to become quite valuable, and the regions where its mined have come under fire for the high human costs reportedly associated with its mining.
Rwanda hopes to change that by partnering with Circulor, a British blockchain startup, and Power Resources Group (PRG), a mining company working in Rwanda and Macedonia, according to Reuters. Their goal is the creation of a blockchain-based tracking system for tantalum that will monitor it “from the pit-face to the refinery.”
Chief Executive of Rwanda’s Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board Francis Gatare said in an interview with Reuters that proving his country was mining tantalum ethically was paramount and that the blockchain could help do it, stating:
“Blockchain is one of the technologies that has demonstrated capabilities of providing a more efficient and effective way of delivering traceability for commodities.”
Rwanda has long faced allegations of illicit mining practices and is currently staving off allegations that some of its mineral resources are being used to fuel a bloody conflict in the Congo region. There have also been reports of miners working in highly dangerous environments to extricate this and other valuable materials.
Keeping the System Secure
There are similar tracking systems already in use by companies like diamond retailer De Beers, who tracks their product to ensure the diamonds weren’t harvested through child labor or associated with any conflict.
A challenge to the tracking of tantalum mineral is that it needs to be refined. When a batch is pulled from the earth as coltan ore, it potentially exposes clean batches to the risk of mixing with ones that were not ethically mined. If incorrect or falsified data is entered, the entire tracking process is rendered useless.
PRG said it will take measures to prevent these exact circumstances, including facial recognition and GPS tracking in addition to the blockchain. The company also has a practice of comparing samples the end product of the refining process kept in sealed bags with each batch taken from its refineries. the company states on its website:
“As a primary and secondary processor of tantalum, PRG takes its role in the supply chain very seriously. Not only is PRG striving to set new standards of human rights in the mining industry, but it recognizes that conflict minerals are of such a serious and shocking nature that they demand a moral and highly ethical response.”
Circulor has also worked with car manufacturer BMW to help in tracking sources of ethical cobalt for use in their vehicles, mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Cover Photo by Chen Hu on Unsplash