Africa is home to approximately 30% of the world’s mineral reserves, many of which are essential to renewable and low-carbon technologies.
With sizable deposits of platinum, manganese, vanadium, nickel, copper, cobalt, lithium, graphite, titanium and rhodium, among others, Africa’s mineral reserves are proving central to the continent’s own socioeconomic development, as well as aiding in the global energy transition.
Competition for access to Africa’s critical minerals is poised to increase dramatically, with demand for copper expected to rise by 40%, nickel and cobalt by 60-70%, and lithium by 90% between now and 2040.
As such, global superpowers – particularly the U.S. and China – are vying for control over Africa’s critical minerals, thereby emboldening the continent to assert itself on the international stage and leverage its resources in the interest of developing local content and establishing diversified, value-added industries.
Boasting the world’s second-largest deposits of chromium ore – an important mineral in the development of concentrated solar power (CSP), geothermal, nuclear, hydro, and wind technologies – Zimbabwe is set to receive a significant boost in revenue from growing interest in its mineral resources. Last May, African Chrome Fields announced the development of a new aluminothermic smelting factory, which will significantly reduce chromium ore production time, while increasing output. One month later, Zimbabwe delivered its first shipment of lithium ore – of which the southern African country holds 690,000 tons of untapped reserves – to China. In a bid to encourage investment in domestic refining infrastructure, Zimbabwe has prohibited the export of raw lithium after its government announced it was losing an estimated $1.8 billion in potential revenue. The country is currently seeking to develop local industries to process raw lithium ore and promote its own battery industry.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) accounts for approximately 70% of the world’s cobalt production, an essential mineral for lithium-ion batteries used in EVs and energy storage technologies. The DRC signed a Memorandum of Understanding in December 2022 with Zambia and the U.S. for the establishment of a Special Economic Zone for EV battery production. Last May, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi traveled to Beijing to negotiate a six-billion-dollar infrastructure-for-minerals agreement with Chinese state-owned enterprises. Under the agreement, the DRC Government will encourage firms to invest in new energy battery value chain initiatives to drive local content development in the Central African country.
Together, the DRC and Zambia account for over 12% of global copper production, a critical mineral used in renewable energy systems to generate power from solar, hydro, thermal and wind energy. Leveraging these important resources will be imperative for both countries to generate local value, create jobs and catalyze wider socioeconomic development.
Serving as an essential input for lithium-ion batteries and energy storage systems, graphite accounts for nearly one-third of all minerals used in EVs. Holding over one fifth of global reserves, Madagascar, Mozambique and Tanzania are well-positioned to leverage their immense graphite resources to capitalize on demand for key technologies required to decarbonize transport and industrial sectors. Additionally, 60% of global mine production for manganese – a key mineral used for many green technologies involving CSP, wind, hydro and geothermal energy – occurs in Africa. South Africa serves as the world’s largest producer of manganese, followed by Gabon, while Ivory Coast and Ghana also hold significant reserves.
Finally, Africa is home to over 90% of global platinum group metal (PGM) reserves, which are central to electrolysis and green hydrogen production. PGMs, which include metals such as iridium, palladium and platinum, are found in abundance in South Africa, which accounted for over 70% of global platinum production and over 80% of global iridium production between 2016 and 2020. Zimbabwe was the world’s third-largest producer of platinum and second-largest producer of iridium between 2016 and 2020, and currently has three new PGM projects under development.
An influx of foreign investment, enhanced regulatory oversight, favorable fiscal incentives and the prioritization of mutually beneficial projects within Africa’s critical mineral extraction industry will enable the continent to maximize the geostrategic importance of its resource wealth. As the global energy transition gains traction, so too will demand for Africa’s resources, with mineral-rich countries across the continent poised to benefit greatly from this anticipated increase in demand.