Congo sees surge in mining of metals for green energy transition

Almost three-quarters of the world’s cobalt comes from Congo. Credit: The Impact Facility

Democratic Republic of Congo could see about 10 new mines for metals key to powering the green-energy transition within four years, according to the director of the country’s mining registry.

About 500 of the nation’s mining permits are in advanced development and will soon lead to new projects for lithium and cobalt — battery metals driving the electric vehicle revolution — while mines for copper, tin, tantalum and tungsten will also be built, Jean Felix Mupande told a conference in the southeast city of Lubumbashi. Congo is already the world’s No. 1 cobalt producer and Africa’s biggest copper miner.

“The essential exploration has been done and either the pre-feasibility study has already been prepared or is finished in the form of a definitive feasibility study,” Mupande said on Thursday.

While Congo’s mining industry has come under scrutiny for human-rights abuses and a related trade in illicit minerals, high-grade ore bodies and the recent surge in commodity prices have revived interest in one of the world’s poorest countries. One measure of lithium prices has spiked more than fivefold over the past year, while cobalt has also climbed.

Mupande said a number of lithium deposits were being explored in Congo’s southeast. That’s where Australia’s AVZ Minerals Ltd. is awaiting a final permit for its Manono project, considered the world’s largest untapped hard rock lithium find.

There will also be new mines for tin ore, tantalum and tungsten around Toronto- and Johannesburg-listed Alphamin Resources Corp.’s massive tin ore project in eastern Congo, he said.

“It’s a region that is very, very, very prospective and where there will soon be a proliferation of other mines,” Mupande said.

Mupande said lack of financing was the “Achilles heel” of the local industry. He called on junior miners to team up with Congolese “who also aspire to be major mine operators, who hold a permit, with whom they can partner on certain prospects that are more promising, to develop new assets.”

Mupande said a new venture with Canada’s AJN Resources Inc. — which will explore for gold near Barrick Gold Corp.’s Kibali mine and lithium near AVZ’s operation — could provide a model. That deal with a new state-controlled company called Congo Ressources SAU has been criticized by civil society groups for lacking transparency.

(By Michael J. Kavanagh)

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