Africa’s impending infrastructure boom, in conjunction with the persistent need for reliable power supply, indicates that Botswana’s coal and uranium reserves could provide new opportunities in terms of exploration, beneficiation and mineral exports, according to the Botswana Chamber of Mines (BCM).
BCM CEO Charles Siwawa notes that Botswana has an estimated 822-million tonnes of uranium and (likely) 200-billion tonnes of coal. The uranium reserves have been recently discovered, while the coal resources require exploitation to convert to revenue.
Currently, the country has one active coal mine, the Morupule mine, owned by Debswana – a 50/50 joint venture by the Botswana government and mining company De Beers. It has also granted only one uranium exploration licence to Australian exploration company A-Cap Resources.
Siwawa says, in light of the power supply challenges throughout the Southern African Development Community, coal could become one of Botswana’s main exports in the form of electricity. Moreover, there is potential for the beneficiation and export of coal-to-liquid products, among others.
He also notes that nuclear power generation around the world might become more attractive in the future, which would, in turn, increase demand for uranium. Nuclear energy is a sustainable energy source and more reliable than solar and wind, as it does not depend on favourable weather. It is also relatively cheap, as uranium prices and running costs are relatively low, compared with conventional power generation methods. Thus, depending on the market and investment to develop reserves, Botswana could potentially export uranium to the outside world.
Siwawa expects that demand for coal will increase exponentially if technology advancement could lead to a way of limiting harmful emissions from coal-fired power stations. Coal-fired power stations are still the main power-generating source for Africa (and the rest of the developing world). Therefore, there is still a market for coal, irrespective of the current coal prices, he states.
There has been a significant decline in coal exploration, he notes, attributing this to listless prices. However, there was plenty of exploration activity before the 2015 commodities crash, with Siwawa expecting many mining or exploration companies to renew their licences once prices improve.
Further, coal-related infrastructure developments across Africa, such as coal-to-power plants, the Trans Kalahari Railway (TKR) project and/or the Ponta Techobanine project (PTP), should re-emerge once prices improve.
The TKR project entails the construction of a 1 500-km-long coal railway line that stretches from Botswana to Walvis Bay, in Namibia. The PTP project entails the construction a 1 100 km line, but necessitates the construction of a deep-water port at the Techobanine coastal village south of Maputo, in Mozambique.
While the TKR route is longer, Walvis Bay has a deep-water port, and would, theoretically, make for easier communications, as only two countries are involved. The PTP will include Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Although the shorter PTP route also leads to the Indian Ocean and potential Asian markets, the preferred development company will likely have to carry the cost of constructing a deep-water port in addition to the railway line.
Key Mining Projects
Siwawa says the Khoemacau copper project and the Letlhakane uranium project are two of the most significant projects currently under way in Botswana.
The Khoemacau project is owned by Botswana mining company Khoemacau Copper Mining, a subsidiary of private-equity firm Cupric Canyon Capital. It is located in the Kalahari Copperbelt, in the Ghantsi and Ngamiland districts. Prefeasibility studies indicate that the project comprises 100-million tonnes of medium-grade copper/silver ore.
Siwawa deems this project significant because of its sizeable grade reserves and potential for job creation. The project is expected to become commercially operational in 2018, when copper and other base metal prices are forecast to rise, he adds.
The Letlhakane project is owned by A-Cap Resources. It is one of the largest undeveloped uranium deposits in the world, with a defined resource of 365.7-million pounds. A-Cap submitted a mining licence for the project in August last year and Botswana’s Department of Environmental Affairs approved the environmental-impact assessment in May this year. A-Cap’s mining licence application is based on a low-risk, shallow openpit mine. The mine should produce about three-million pounds of uranium a year over 18 years.
The Letlhakane uranium project is significant because it will be Botswana’s first uranium mine, if the mining licence is approved. Siwawa is also excited about the potential for learning and skills transfer. He notes that, because of the novelty of the project, miners and other stakeholders, including the Ministry of Minerals, Water and Energy Resources, will have to learn new skills pertaining to uranium extraction while furthering the development of the project.
Siwawa says Botswana’s mining industry is “stable, with a positive outlook”. He concludes that, while diamond production has stagnated, sales have increased of late and poor copper, nickel and coal production is expected to be amended by an increase in base metal and coal prices, which are forecast to improve in the near future.