With electric vehicle (EV) market growth to drive demand for lithium-ion batteries, as well as the materials used in their anodes and cathodes, soaring demand for numerous raw materials can be expected in the next ten years, says international metals and minerals researcher Roskill steel alloys manager Jack Bedder.
He adds that many of the materials used in lithium-ion batteries are mined in Africa and that, in certain cases, African countries represent the “lion’s share” of mine production – for example, in cobalt and manganese. The continent also contains various nickel, graphite and lithium resources.
“Regarding batteries, there are many opportunities for Africa to produce the raw materials and the refined products used in batteries,” Bedder says, adding that the continent’s involvement in EV development, however, does not have to stop there.
He highlights opportunities for countries to produce the refined products used in batteries, as well as the batteries and vehicles themselves, stressing that this will all require investment.
Bedder explains that cobalt, one of the materials used in the cathodes of certain lithium- ion batteries, is mainly produced in Central Africa as a by-product of copper.
“While African mine production of cobalt is huge, there is relatively little refined production – most mined material is exported for processing abroad, either in concentrate or intermediate form,” he says.
Roskill’s baseline forecast suggests that cobalt demand from the battery sector could reach 240 000 t in 2027, up from the current volumes of about 56 000 t. “That is a huge increase that will put huge strain on supply – especially mine supply – after 2021,” Bedder points out.
Meanwhile, cobalt’s high cost is prompting changes to cathode chemistries – a move towards nickel-manganese-cobalt cathodes that use a higher proportion of nickel than cobalt is under way. “However, research and development will take time. Cobalt will, therefore, still be used in lithium-ion batteries for the foreseeable future,” Bedder suggests.
Recently, changes to the mining code in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – which accounts for 70% of global cobalt production – have been proposed. Lawmakers in the DRC have reportedly voted in favour of new mining laws, which include the lifting of a provision that exempted licence holders from compliance with the new code for ten years.
“If these new proposed amendments are implemented, it could have an impact on producers and potential producers in the future, but there is still a lot of uncertainty. However, as the DRC accounts for such a large percentage of global mine supply, it is easy to see that any instability in the DRC could hugely impact on the global market,” Bedder comments.
Roskill attended the 2018 Investing in African Mining Indaba, which was held in Cape Town last month. Roskill battery and technology materials deputy manager David Merriman presented the company’s outlook on the graphite market.
“It’s fantastic that so many people congregate in Cape Town every year for the event and the Indaba is a great showcase for the various services and opportunities that exist in the country and on the continent,” notes Bedder.
Roskill also delivered a presentation titled On the Road with Roskill, on the sidelines of the conference at specialist motoring centre Crossley and Webb. The company presented on battery raw materials and the future of automotive and EV trends.
Bedder concludes that Roskill’s experience at the Indaba was “very positive” and that market sentiment has improved over the last three Indabas.