Early one morning, as light danced through the forest canopy above, Fedrick Eshiloni reached into the ground and scooped up fists of ochre-colored earth.
The scenery hardly resembled a hub of innovation: In this wooded stretch of Zambia’s northwest, home to reedy swamps and termite mounds the size of houses, locals still move goods by oxcart. But the 22-year-old, dressed in a blue workman’s uniform and accompanied by a team of prospectors, was performing a critical first step in an emerging high-tech quest to find the metals key to powering a clean energy future.
Founded in 2018, KoBold derives its name from cobalt, a lustrous bluish-silver metal that helps drive performance of the lithium-ion batteries that revolutionized consumer electronics when they were introduced in the early 1990s. The same batteries are used on a much larger scale to power electric vehicles, and cobalt gives them greater range, longer lifespans, and better protection against fires by reducing corrosion.