African Reserves

How lithium can fuel an industrial revolution for Africa



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The green energy revolution offers Africa a chance to transform its future. The continent is blessed with an abundance of minerals, and one of them is lithium, a critical component in the manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles. Lithium offers African nations the opportunity to develop their economies for the 21st century. To achieve this, they must become more than suppliers of raw materials; they have to become manufacturers and claim a share of what is a multi-billion dollar industry. As Hadley Natus, chairman of the board of the mining and exploration company, Tantalex Resources Corp, puts it, “Africa needs to become the ‘go to’ continent rather than the ‘take’ continent.”

Africa contains around 30 percent of the world’s mineral reserves, but for too long these precious raw materials have been exported to other countries. For countries that receive African minerals, this is called “added value”; for Africa, it has become a trap.

The shift to green energy for utilities and automotive production across the world has led to a massive increase in demand for lithium-ion batteries. In this latest industrial revolution, lithium is absolutely essential; as a natural resource, lithium is as “hot” as it gets.

Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are two of the top 10 countries in the world for lithium reserves. In Zimbabwe, a single mine – the Bikita – contains more than 11 million tonnes of lithium ore. Yet so far Africa has made no move to join the race to produce batteries.

This despite the continent’s growing appetite for green energy. Ampersand, a Rwandan start-up claiming to be Africa’s leading electric motorcycle company, has secured $ 3.5 million from San Francisco-based venture capitalist, Ecosystem Integrity Fund. The company intends to use the funding to expand its network of bicycle and battery exchange stations in Rwanda and expand beyond its borders. Motorcycle taxis are an important part of the transit system, in addition to providing jobs. Ampersand has set itself the impressive goal of making all motorcycle taxis in East Africa electric by 2030.

Silicon Valley investment “further dispels the myth that electric transportation will happen first in rich countries and trickle down to developing countries later,” Josh Whale, CEO of Ampersand, told Bloomberg .

The importance of lithium – sometimes referred to as “white gold” or “new oil” – to Africa’s development cannot be overstated. Lithium-ion batteries are the dominant component in storage technology due to their high energy density and they are increasingly used in the energy and transportation industries.

Of course, the creation of any industry requires investment. But the practical arguments are on Africa’s side. Battery production requires lithium hydroxide, and most of the world’s converter plants are in China or Southeast Asia. Building one in Africa would cost around $ 300 million and provide both cost and logistical benefits.

The indications are that the will to invest in the production of batteries is there. Northvolt, a Swedish battery developer and manufacturer specializing in lithium-ion technology for electric vehicles, has raised $ 1 billion for a plant in Sweden and earlier this month announced an agreement to supply battery systems for the electrification of construction equipment for the Dutch multinational Pon Equipment. Tesla and Toyota are both investing in battery production. So why not in Africa?

As to where on the continent a battery production plant might be located, logistical considerations and a well-trained workforce indicate Zimbabwe is a natural choice. Trade barriers between African countries will have to be removed, but this is already happening thanks to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement between 54 of the 55 countries of the African Union.

But in addition to investments, building an industry requires vision. For too long Africa has missed too many opportunities because of short-term thinking. The growing desire and need for green energy in the world offers a chance to correct this, to enable Africa to leverage the full value chain of its resources and create a model that will be admired and emulated by the world. whole world.

It could be an opportunity to write a new history of Africa – battery powered.

In agreement with the Syndication Office

Marc Holtzman is a guest contributor. The opinions expressed are personal.



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