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Africa should build battery metals value chain to capitalise on its mineral resources

3rd March 2023

By: Donna Slater

Features Deputy Editor and Chief Photographer

     

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The world must decarbonise its growth models and shift to renewable energy sources to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, the United Nations’ (UN’s) Sustainable Development Goals and Africa’s Agenda 2063, UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) acting executive secretary Antonio Pedro has said.

Speaking during a panel discussion on ‘Building a regional battery mineral value chain in Africa’ earlier this week, he said the shift to renewable energy sources was a resource-intensive path that required greater production of a variety of minerals – many of which are found in Africa – that are central to decarbonisation efforts.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for example, produces over 70% of the world’s cobalt, while the DRC and Zambia together supply 10% of the world's copper. Mozambique and South Africa hold significant reserves of graphite, platinum group metals, lithium and others.

“We have clear opportunities not only from the global green mineral boom, but also from our domestic achievements, such as the African Continental Free Trade Area to facilitate the development of regional value chains for these green economy products,” said Pedro.

He also noted that several innovative financing mechanisms had been developed to support initiatives such as the battery and electric vehicles (EVs) value chains.

The session was jointly organised by UNECA and Afreximbank. The organisers wanted to present the specifics of the lithium-ion battery initiative to a wider audience.

In the past two decades, Pedro said, the world had seen that, without the right enabling policies and incentives, commodity supercycles come and go, leaving countries dependent on resource extraction.

He deplored the fact that about 70% of Africa’s exports were unprocessed commodities, a situation that could change with the right policies that prioritise industrialisation and value-addition in mining and other resource sectors.

Afreximbank export development director Oluranti Doherty said it was disappointing that, despite Africa being endowed with an array of minerals, from copper and magnesium to nickel and cobalt, the continent had not been able to efficiently transition to greener forms of energy.

Underlining Afreximbank's commitment to promoting an inclusive battery and electric vehicle value chain, she said the bank was promoting industrialisation on the continent and was facilitating the emergence and expansion of industrial parks and special economic zones (SEZs) in Zambia and the DRC.

“We are working on a framework agreement for SEZs for the production of batteries, electric vehicles and accessories and we will facilitate the commencement of studies to facilitate the development of this facility,” said Doherty.

According to a BloombergNEF study, the DRC is a favourable location for producing sustainable battery materials for high-nickel batteries owing to the country’s abundant cobalt resources and access to hydroelectric power.

The study, which was supported by UNECA, Afreximbank, the African Development Bank, the Africa Finance Corporation, the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, the African Legal Support Facility, and the UN Global Compact, suggests that battery precursors produced in the DRC would be cheaper, environmentally sustainable and more competitive than material produced in China, the US and elsewhere.

The report estimates the global market opportunity for EVs at $7-trillion by 2030 and $46-trillion by 2050.

Jean-Marie Kanda from the University of Lubumbashi highlighted that African countries needed to own such projects and commit investment and appropriate funding for research on the battery technology.

“Africa needs to develop standards as far as batteries are concerned. We need to focus on the assembly of these batteries and focus on mineral exploitation as well as on recycling,” he said.

UNECA senior economist Jean Luc Matsaki Namegabe told participants that the DRC presented an opportunity in the development of electric batteries and vehicles not to be missed because it would move Africa up the value addition ladder as Africa was the only region that did not manufacture electric batteries.

Abdou Moumouni University West African science service centre in climate change and adapted land use director Rabani Adamou said that, by promoting the development of mineral value chains, African countries must invest in research and development to understand the exploitable quantity of the minerals.

African Minerals Development Center interim director Marit Kitaw said the battery and EV initiative was a huge opportunity for Africa, which had triggered a huge surge of investment coming into Africa for green minerals.

She added that the centre was in the process of developing a mineral strategy for Africa and called for the institutionalisation of the initiative as well as harnessing of innovative financing for its realisation.

Pedro described the initiative as one of the most transformative projects for Africa, noting that it has received wide publicity and interest.

He also called for the development of an ecosystem that taps capacities, expertise and partnerships that exist in Africa.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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