If you’ve been paying close attention to this article you may have noticed the words “vibranium isn’t real” used a few times. Well, the Marvel universe’s magic metal isn’t apparent in our universe, but one notable element does come close in several ways. Cobalt is a rare metal that is central to modern technology. Without the substance, we wouldn’t have cellphones, lithium-ion batteries, the laptop this article is being written on, or a multitude of other modern conveniences. It’s also used to make a number of hard-wearing alloys — though kevlar and ceramics are still the real-life go-to choices for body armor. Just as most of the world’s vibranium is concentrated in Wakanda, most of the world’s cobalt happens to be in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
However, the Congo lacks a cloaking device, so most of its cobalt tends to be exported for use in factories around the world. As The New York Times explains, the Congo’s vast cobalt reserves haven’t turned it into a technological powerhouse either. The country’s mining industry has been a source of exploitation for over a century. Despite current global attitude trends toward giving small children jobs in heavy industry, keeping technology prices down may be enough to keep the world collectively looking the other way in this case. Modern lithium batteries can contain up to 30% cobalt, though this could change as scientists look toward cheaper, more ethical, alternatives.