Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) President Félix Tshisekedi will be attending this year’s Investing in African Mining Indaba, which will be held in Cape Town next month.
He will be accompanied by a large delegation from the DRC, including two newly appointed Cabinet Ministers, namely Energy and Hydrocarbons Minister Eustache Muhanzi Mubembe and Mining Minister Willy Kitobo Samsoni.
Tshisekedi became the leader of the DRC in January 2019, after the first peaceful and democratic transfer of power. He is known for his involvement and leadership in the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) and currently serves as the second vice-president of the African Union.
The country’s large presence at the Indaba is aimed at positioning the DRC as a premier mining investment destination, and Tshisekedi will address the Indaba’s senior audience on the main stage on its opening day – February 3.
The main stage will also see a DRC Focus session that will examine the rise of cobalt and how the government’s policy and new mining code positions the country in a positive light in terms of investment.
On February 5, Samsoni will deliver a speech at the Intergovernmental Summit where he will highlight the DRC’s new mining code, which was approved and signed in 2018.
“The Indaba’s Intergovernmental Summit is an open platform for African Ministers and senior government decision-makers from across the globe to debate issues affecting the mining sector and improve bilateral trade and economic relationships and it is very exciting for us that the platform is attracting such senior interest,” Indaba portfolio director Simon Ford commented in a statement.
As one of the main government sponsors of the event, the DRC will also host its yearly breakfast session on February 6, where an in-depth conversation will be had about the latest mining developments in the country. Key public and private sector stakeholders will gather for an open conversation on the future of mining in the DRC.
Additionally, when it comes to energy, there is a fundamental transformation under way that will deliver a new reality in clean energy.
“It is not just the traditional advocates of renewable energy that are leading the way, it is the world’s major emerging economies such as China and India that are driving this clean energy transition,” the Indaba said in a separate statement this week.
According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) World Energy Outlook 2019, China’s growing energy needs are increasingly being met by renewables, natural gas and electricity.
The scale of China’s future electricity demand and the challenge of decarbonising the power supply help explain why global investment in electricity overtook that of oil and gas for the first time in 2016, and why electricity security is moving firmly up the policy agenda, the statement elaborated.
One of the prime strategies for China is to increase the penetration of electric vehicles (EVs), especially as the move towards an electric-based mobility solution now forms a major part of the environmental policies of many governments with many already having set targets.
China is one of several nations to announce a desire to phase out traditional internal combustion engines entirely, where it is believed that moving to EVs will ensure an improvement in the air quality in China’s major cities and this is driving automotive manufacturers to invest in electrification.
A crucial piece of the EV puzzle, however, is the raw material resources that include the minerals copper, nickel, cobalt, graphite and lithium that are processed for use in EV components including lithium-ion (Li-on) batteries.
These raw materials are mined in various parts of the world, including China, Africa and South America.
At present, China accounts for 70% of the global lithium cell manufacturing capacity, with the US at just 12%, while Europe only accounts for 3% of global production capacity.
Further, research released last year by IJGlobal reveals that the value of loans from Chinese financing of energy and infrastructure projects in Africa almost trebled between 2016 and 2017, from $3-billion to $8.8-billion. In the mining sector alone, between 2005 and 2017, China invested $58-billion and continues to be a leading investor in the global mining industry.
China’s acceptance of political and security risks, along with its willingness to entrench its operations in the growth of local industry, have allowed China to gain footholds in complex natural resource markets. An example can be seen in its acquisitions within the vital DRC cobalt resources, where China now controls seven of the largest DRC mines and in the process, owns over half DRC’s cobalt supplies.
Almost three-quarters of the world’s cobalt is mined in the DRC and it is considered an essential element within lithium battery cells – along with lithium, nickel and manganese, it makes up the metal oxide slurry of the battery cell’s cathode from which electricity is generated.
With the EV market growing rapidly, that demand for cobalt is predicted to double according to conservative estimates, while the forecast is that EV production will grow from under two-million units to a forecast 11-million units in 2025. China is expected to produce more than half of the total.
With few governments having articulated, let alone implemented, an explicit resource strategy, China is more than a decade ahead in the game, the Indaba said in its statement, noting that this investment leaves that country “in pole position to win the battery race, and with it, control the coming electrification both of mobility and energy storage”.
Meanwhile, in South Africa, in particular, labour and energy costs are putting pressure on the financial performance of South African gold mines, but according to the Indaba, the solution “could be found in adopting digital technologies”.
While most of these new technology solutions revolve around automation, facilitated by the convergence of multiple technologies, from artificial intelligence to robotics, by implementing automation operators can remove underground workers from harm's way, and that is going to become an ever-bigger imperative if gold miners are to remain investable by international capital.
“This increased emphasis on the safety of the workforce and mines is motivating the development of the mining automation market. Earlier, old-style techniques of exploration and drilling compromised the security of mine labour forces.”
One company that is pushing technology development and use in the South African mining industry is precious metals miner Sibanye-Stillwater, which has since its founding in 2013, grown from being a South African gold mining company to an internationally competitive, globally diversified precious metals miner, producing gold and the full suite of platinum group metals (PGMs), another statement by the Indaba said this week.
The company has a diverse portfolio of PGM operations in the US, South Africa and Zimbabwe, gold operations and projects in South Africa, and copper, gold and PGM exploration properties in North and South America.
The Indaba referred to a technology programme that Sibanye is involved with, called DigiMine, a twenty-first-century state-of-the-art mining laboratory.
The aim of the laboratory is to make mining safer and sustainable using digital technologies.
The digital mine laboratory at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg is a project where the Chamber of Mines building on West Campus was converted into a ‘mine’, complete with surface (using the flat roof of the building), vertical shaft (using a stairwell in the fourth quadrant of the building) and mock mine with control room in the basement.
The mock mine has a life-size tunnel, stope, lamp room and other features. The mock mine is equipped with the digital systems that will enable research for the 'mine of the future' and is part of the Wits Mining Institute.
The goal of the laboratory is to transfer surface digital technologies into the underground environment – the enabler for a mine that can automatically observe, evaluate and act. The ultimate objective is to use technology to put distance between mineworkers and the typical risks they are exposed to daily.
“You don't know what you don't know when it comes to these new technologies such as 3D printing, blockchain, cloud computing and artificial intelligence,” Sibanye CEO Neal Froneman explained, adding that there “is a generation that is coming through the ranks that embraces it and [technology] becomes completely natural to them”.