First published: 2020-04-25. Last updated: 2020-05-02.
I'm not the first to say that blockchain has had limited practical use thus far due to its technical limitations. Even Ethereum's co-founder, Vitalik Buterin, has said so. That said, I think that blockchain has the potential to deliver social benefits in many applications. In some sense, blockchains have to deliver social benefit for them to be viable at all. This is because, to quote Vitalik again: "A blockchain, fundamentally, is not a technical improvement. From a technical point of view, blockchains make things less efficient because you need every transaction to be verified a bunch of times, the benefit is social".
This post is on my learnings in one of these potential areas of social benefit - mineral supply chain traceability.
I recently listened to an interview on the CBC with Clare Church, a researcher from the International Institute for Sustainable Development, during which she discussed the relationship between the demand for the minerals required for green technologies, like solar panels and electric vehicles, and the human suffering in countries in which these minerals are mined. It seems to me that:
If lawmakers and consumers are to push for ethical sourcing of minerals, then the supply chain traceability of these minerals is paramount.
Blockchain is a potentially useful technology for supply chain traceability due to its transparency and immutability. (And I'm not the only one who thinks so: AWS and Microsoft have templates for this ready for use)
Research into this area turned up a few groups which are leveraging blockchain for mineral supply chain traceability.
Minespider is an organization that is developing raw material supply chain infrastructure on the Ethereum blockchain. They have worked with Google and other members of the Responable Mining Initiative.
Ford Motor Company, Huayou Cobalt, IBM, LG Chem and RCS Global launched a pilot in 2019 which looked to use blockchain technology to trace and validate ethically sourced minerals.