The Joe Biden administration is eager to start discussing how it can apply its ‘build back better’ mantra to commerce with Africa when it ... virtually hosts the continent’s trade ministers this week. For their part, America's African partners want to make sure that Washington doesn’t bulldoze their two-decade-old, duty-free access to the US market in the process.
In the provinces of Tanganyika and Haut-Lomami, in the south-east of the DRC, there is a rich reserve of “spodumene-rich pegmatite-type rocks”. These contain a lithium mineral associated with a stannocoltanian ore.
However, during the colonial era and right up until 1982, only tin was extracted from them. It was not until the 2010s that the DRC became interested in lithium and granted mining companies the first extracts containing evidence of this metal, which is now classified as a strategic mineral.
The new mining code passed by the Congolese government in 2018 identifies four “strategic metals”: cobalt, coltan, germanium and lithium, for which it has introduced an increase in royalties from 2% to 10%.
Boosted by the increase in global demand for lithium (used, among other things, to manufacture batteries), several companies have already mobilised in the sector. Two of these – in joint venture with the Congolese mining company Cominière – are in an advanced development phase.
Australians and Chinese on the front line
In Tanganyika, Dathcom Mining – a partnership between Australian AVZ Minerals (75%) and Cominière – is developing the Manono project (lithium and tin). In addition to its metal-rich 44.6 million tonnes of proven lithium reserves and 48.5 million tonnes of probable reserves, the future mine is expected to have one of the smallest carbon footprints in the world compared to similar lithium projects, thanks to the energy from the Mpiana-Mwanga hydroelectric plant.
On the strength of these assets, AVZ Minerals – whose shareholders include China’s Huayou Cobalt Company and Yibin Tianyi Lithium – has signed several mineral offtake agreements with Chinese groups: in late December 2020 with GFL International (a subsidiary of Ganfeng Lithium) and last March with Shenzhen Chengxin Lithium and Yibin Tianyi Lithium Industry Co.
The Dathcom Mining site could start production in early 2023, with an expected annual volume of 700,000 tonnes of spodumene concentrate (SC6, for the production of lithium hydroxide and carbonate) and more than 45,000 tonnes of primary lithium sulphate.
A Cominière partnership with Mining Mineral Resources (a subsidiary of the Indian group Vinmart) and the Congolese state, the Société d’exploitation des gisements de Malemba-Nkulu (Segmal) operates in the Kabongo territory (Haut-Lomami), where it holds three mining permits.
Canada in on the action
Finally, Canadian company Tantalex Resources is developing a project on the Manono-Kitotolo lithium, tin and tantalum heaps, which it acquired in 2018. In addition to resource evaluation, it plans to build a plant in 2022, with production starting in 2023.
As for the Australian junior Force Commodities, which holds the permits for the Kanuka Lithium and Kitotolo Lithium projects, it is currently not very active in the field.
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