Africa is well positioned to satisfy the mineral and metal demands needed for the global transition from fossil-based energy sources to renewable ones, according to experts at the Investing in Africa Mining Indaba in Cape Town.
Panellists at the conference, the biggest mining investment event in Africa, said demand for metals such as cobalt, copper, nickel, graphite, vanadium, and platinum group metals would continue to increase, and the continent was well endowed with these resources.
“I think we can all agree that the energy transition presents a generational opportunity for Africa. It’s similar to what the Industrial Revolution did to the Western world,” said Bushveld Minerals chief executive Fortune Mojapelo.
“Much of the narrative, of course, has been focused on ensuring the security of supply of metals and mining in a sustainable, ethical manner that is consistent with ESG [environmental, social, and governance] principles,” Mojapelo said. This was the right place to start, he added, because to meet the mandates for electric vehicle penetration and the energy transition “the world will need something like 400 new mines in the next decade”.
“The question for Africa is not where we will get these minerals, because Africa has a lot to offer. We have the majority of those resources. In terms of all the metals that are relevant to the energy transition, Africa is leading. The only real question is: how do we unlock that and how do we unlock it fast?” Mojapelo said.
The continent has 30% of the world’s mineral reserves, including those essential to the green transition and increased technology, according to the South African Institute of International Affairs.
“For example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo produces about 70% of the world’s cobalt, while South Africa has the largest share of manganese reserves. Madagascar and Mozambique have significant shares of graphite, and Zimbabwe has large deposits of lithium,” the institute said in a note.
But opportunities for Africa were not only limited to the supply of metals, Mojapelo said. There was ample scope in the downstream development (beneficiation) process, which would allow benefits at every stage of the production value chain.
The World Bank’s global director for energy and extractives, Demetrios Papathanasiou, concurred, saying the world was going through a structural shift in the demand for mining commodities and Africa was well positioned to benefit from the increased demand for transitional metals.
“A lot of mining in Africa was focused on small volume, high-value products such as diamonds and gold. Now we need to focus on the types of metals key for the energy transition and that includes metals which are still quite valuable, but they require much higher volume,” Papathanasiou said.
“The continent’s mining sector needs to be able to switch to the production of metals so it can play a pivotal role in the energy transition … and the World Bank supports this,” he said.
“I think it is the first time in a long time we can say with certainty that the demand level for minerals and metals associated with the energy transition is going to be there for a while.”
But Africa’s poorly maintained lack of infrastructure remains a stumbling block to beneficiation.
Nikisi Lesufi, a senior executive at the Minerals Council, said constraints in South Africa included logistics, in that most of the minerals for the future were in the Northern Cape, far from the country’s ports. This was exacerbated by inadequate, neglected and poorly managed rail infrastructure by Transnet.
Most mining companies had thus resorted to trucking their products, said Lesufi, which adversely affected roads and people.