Most investors are staying away from cobalt in droves, as oversupply concerns send prices plummeting.
It’s the worst performing metal in 2019 by quite some margin.
But this hasn’t fazed some of the world’s best-known billionaires, including Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio.
Alongside a dozen others, these guys have invested an undisclosed sum into a tech mining start-up called Kobold Metals, which wants to find rich cobalt deposits using what’s been described as “Google Maps for the earth’s crust”.
Cobalt actually gets its name from a mythical creature called a kobold. Dungeons & Dragons fans will be nodding knowingly right now, but ye olde miners blamed kobolds for the poisonous fumes this unknown ore gave off when smelted.
But other kobold myths paint a more positive picture.
Nineteenth-century miners claimed that kobolds would make knocking sounds in the mines to show where the metal was — the more urgent the knocking, the richer the vein.
Similarly, Kobold Metals hopes that its disruptive technology, called Machine Prospecting, will highlight some of the world’s richest, yet-to-be discovered mineral deposits.
The Google Maps-like platform could fast-track exploration by efficiently screening large regions and identifying the most promising locations, making exploration more time and cost effective.
It’s generally accepted that we have enough cobalt until about 2022/2023; then things get hairy for battery makers and EV manufacturers.
This is when oversupply will turn into a supply deficit.
Kobold chief executive Kurt Zenz House says the technology could help ensure long term, ethical cobalt supply for the EV revolution.
But building a highly scientific and data-enabled exploration firm “requires meaningful and patient financial resources”, he says.
It has two large venture capital firms on board, including Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a $US1 billion fund backed by Microsoft’s Bill Gates and a dozen others including Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Ray Dalio and newspaper tycoon Michael Bloomberg.
Venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz has also invested an undisclosed sum.
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It’s going to be a digital prospecting engine built from scratch — using computer vision, machine learning, and sophisticated data analysis not currently available to the industry, says Connie Chan, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz.
“Kobold’s software combines previously unavailable, dark data with conventional geochemical, geophysical, and geological data to identify prospects in models that can only get better over time,” she says.
Kobold Metals is going to use this to finding and developing new, reliable, and ethical sources of cobalt for starters – but the possibilities are endless.
“More importantly, such sophisticated software-defined prospecting techniques can be applied to the entire universe of mineral exploration… and beyond,” Ms Chan says.