Pursuing sustainable battery metals supply

16th February 2024

Pursuing sustainable battery metals supply

CHAIN OF SUPPLY The copper mining sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo will benefit from the global increased demand for battery metals

Despite a projected gradual decrease from 76% of global cobalt mine production in 2023 to 67% in 2028 and 66% in 2033, the DRC will continue to be the most dominant producer globally, according to price reporting and research agency Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.

This decrease in production from the DRC is not attributed to a decline in production from the country, but rather an increase in output by miners in Indonesia, which will offset DRC production.

According to forecasting and reporting company Statista, the DRC is the world’s top cobalt producer and boasts the largest reserves of the element globally.

Cobalt is mined as a by-product of copper, and the country is tied for second place, with Peru, in terms of global copper production.

Of the five biggest mines in DRC, four mine copper and cobalt, according to information from data analysis group Global Data.

Presidential Support

The DRC government was represented at this year’s Investing in African Mining Indaba, held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, from February 5 to 8, by Ministry of Mines strategic partnerships expert head Benitha Tambwe.

She participated in a discussion, titled Professionalising Artisanal Mining – Ensuring no Man, or Women, is Left Behind’, on Tuesday, February 6.

The country’s mining sector is a major driver of employment, with more than 48-million people employed as artisanal and small-scale miners, which constitutes the second-largest livelihood after agriculture.

Tambwe stressed that, by investing in formalising and professionalising the sector, working conditions and incomes can be improved; however, such investment risks “leaving some of the most vulnerable people behind”.

Mining Weekly reported in February 2020, that, according to law firm Webber Wentzel partner Kate Collier, a key focus for larger mine houses operating in the DRC, and other similar jurisdictions, is the safety risk to personnel and plant assets because of illegal or artisanal mining operations.

These operations not only place the integrity of mining operations, including issues pertaining to ground stability, at risk, but also present a safety risk in terms of increased levels of intimidation, crime and violence, with reports of armed conflict increasing.

Collier added that these risks were largely outside the control of any employer but must be considered and mitigated where possible because they might place all other safety and related systems at risk.

“All employers, and specifically those involved in high-risk activities, such as mining, should be developing systems to ensure that hazards are identified, risks assessed, and control measures implemented.”

Continued Development

With the re-election of President Felix Tshisekedi in December 2023, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will continue to develop a secure and integrated battery metals value chain in the country.

The ensuing political stability enables government to capitalise on its vast reserves and affords it the ability to continue its work in line with the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed with the US and Zambian governments in 2022.

The MoU is aimed at facilitating the development of an integrated value chain for the production of electric vehicle (EV) batteries in the DRC and Zambia.

The EV battery development scope ranges from raw material extraction, processing, manufacturing and assembly in the DRC.

The MoU highlights the need for the DRC and Zambia to build their respective technical capacities to allow for cooperation in the joint development of battery material processing and manufacturing capacity.

It also underscores the US’s offer to provide support for both countries, including possible technical assistance, to facilitate the development of the EV battery value chain.

Additionally, to further strengthen its stance in the global battery metals supply chain – and in doing so, increase the general wealth of the country – the DRC government has committed to the African Union’s Agenda 2063 that seeks to create “the Africa that we want”.

This was reflected during the inaugural DRC-Africa Battery Metals Forum, held in Kinshasa, in the DRC, from September 20 to 21.

The forum was developed to contribute to the establishment of an inclusive and equitable battery metals industry, and support large-scale sustainable growth, local beneficiation and socioeconomic development.

“The forum transcends the boundaries of sectoral interests, involving government bodies, mining corporations, key stakeholders, technology providers and end-users in a collaborative endeavour to shape the trajectory of a nascent industry within the DRC,” says DRC Industry Minister Julien Paluku.