Conference, Notes and Press Conference

Africa has opportunity in battery metals space

Africa has opportunity in battery metals space
Mining News Pro - Despite analyst fears at the start of this year that countries could shift their focus away from reducing carbon emissions, business intelligence firm CRU senior analyst George Heppel says much of the year has been focused on green recovery concepts.

Speaking during this year’s virtual Africa Mining Forum, on November 16, he said many big economies around the world have, instead, used the opportunity presented by the Covid-19 pandemic to advance green recovery plans, especially in the electric vehicles (EVs) sector.

Heppel elaborated that, in Europe alone, five countries make up about two-thirds of all EV sales, and of those, four introduced new subsidy policies this year.

As a result, Europe is on track to overtake China as the largest EV market in the world in 2021.

China, however, also has strong growth aspirations, as is shown in its recently published five-year plan, wherein the country states its target for 20% of all its vehicle sales to be EVs by 2025.

A lot of focus still remains on Europe and, as a result of these policies in the region, CRU expects plug-in sales to go from 2.5-million in 2019 to 10-million by 2025, which, by some measures, “could be a slightly pessimistic forecast”.

Owing to this, Heppel said the firm expects a strong increase in demand for lithium, nickel and cobalt – which are the three key battery metals – up to 2025. Nickel and lithium, in particular, are expected to increase, with demand for batteries to increase by 3.3 times over the next five years.

Cobalt demand is, meanwhile, expected to increase by 2.4 times.

This “creates a lot of opportunities for the global mining industry”.

Heppel pointed out that the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC’s) dominance in cobalt production was unlikely to change any time soon, given that “the sheer quantity and grades of the orebodies” in the DRC were “unmatched”.

For lithium and, to a lesser extent, nickel, he said there were “many excellent reserves and orebodies across the world, including in West Africa”, which could potentially benefit from this increase in demand, certainly as prices begin to rise to stimulate another greenfield investment cycle.

In spite of this, Heppel warned that many challenges and considerations still needed to be taken into account when selecting a mine and region to invest in, such as political risk, infrastructure, funding concerns, logistics, offtake partners and more.

“The battery metals sector has an excellent and very positive future ahead of it, and speaking as an analyst, it will be really interesting to see which mining operations thrive in the wake of more demand for these elements,” he said.

PwC partner and West market mining leader George Arhin, meanwhile, shared sentiments similar to Heppel, noting that the World Bank recently published a report that shows that West Africa supplied 9% of the world’s bauxite demand and 8% of gold demand in 2019.

“This shows that West Africa plays a very significant role in the supply of those minerals around the world,” he said.

Taking into account the recent changes the world has been experiencing, Arhin emphasised that “it’s clear that West African countries cannot depend only on [its current] resources” if it intends to continue advancing transformation agendas.

It is because of this that he believes countries in the region should also “look elsewhere” for growth, and that battery metals are a key area which is growing and will continue to grow.

“The [battery metals] market is valued at $14.8-billion as of 2019 and it is expected to grow at a cumulative [yearly] growth rate of 2.4%,” Arhin said, noting that this was a “positive sign”.

With growth continuing for the world, and the subsequent increase in demand for EVs, as well as rising global carbon emissions, Arhin said “the pressure for EVs is high and will continue to be higher”, hence, “the opportunity is there for Africa to produce the metals to support the growing demand of battery metals”.

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