Essential for the implementation of clean technologies and the establishment of energy security, Africa’s critical minerals are becoming increasingly attractive to global energy and mining players, particularly as the energy transition continues to stimulate demand and new discoveries reveal large-scale deposits.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the average amount of mineral resources needed for a new unit of power generation capacity has increased by 50% since 2010, as the share of renewables in new investment continues to rise.
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With electric batteries requiring lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese and graphite, magnets essential for wind turbines, electric vehicle motors requiring rare earth elements (REE), and electricity networks relying on a significant amount of copper and aluminum – Africa’s critical mineral wealth now represents a cornerstone for the global energy transition. Below are the top critical mineral-producing countries in Africa in 2023.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) represents one of the wealthiest nations worldwide in terms of critical mineral reserves and has the potential to become a globally competitive mining hub. The DRC contains 70% of the world’s cobalt reserves, a key metal for the production of electric vehicles and batteries, with its largest mine producing up to 95,000 tons, or approximately 41% of global production.
Additionally, the country offers some of the highest quality of copper reserves globally, with its copper belt attracting a slate of players interested in tapping into the global power market. Critical minerals represent the highest contributors to the Congolese economy, responsible for up to 95% of the value of its exports. Up to $24 trillion in untapped mineral deposits places the DRC in a strategic position for the ongoing energy transition, if challenges associated with security risks and infrastructure deficits are addressed.
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South Africa is a leading producer of several critical minerals, including platinum group metals (PGM), manganese, chromium and vanadium – all of which are essential for the production of batteries and renewable energy components. On the REE side, the country’s Steenkampskraal mine in the Western Cape has the highest grade in the world, while the country is additionally responsible for 60% of the global manganese supply, 75% of platinum supply and 40% of palladium supply. In 2021, South Africa’s PGM production measured 285 metric tons, while the mining industry at-large contributed approximately 8.7% of total GDP.
Zimbabwe is another major producer of PGMs including platinum, palladium and rhodium, producing up to 15 metric tons of platinum alone in 2021. The country also holds the largest lithium deposits in Africa, with its Bikita Mine boasting up to 10.8 million tons of lithium ore reserves. Essential for the production of batteries for electric vehicles, the country is well placed to become a leading supplier for the emerging global electric vehicle market.
Namibia is home to significant deposits of REEs including dysprosium and terbium – necessary for the production of permanent magnets in the batteries of electric cars and wind turbines – as well as uranium. In 2020, the country produced 12% of uranium worldwide, ranking as the second-largest producer of the resource after Kazakhstan. Representing a critical mineral for the production of nuclear power, Namibia’s status as a globally competitive producer offers newfound opportunities for nuclear adoption in Africa. With a number of sizable mining projects currently underway, including the Eisenberg Rare Earth Minerals project and Lofdal mine, the country is positioning itself to become a critical mineral hub in the region.
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Boasting a diverse range of critical minerals essential for various industrial and technological applications, Ghana has emerged as a major producer of bauxite, manganese, lithium and REEs. In 2020, Ghana produced approximately 1.16 million metric tons of bauxite and an estimated 640,000 metric tons of manganese in 2021, making it the sixth-largest producer worldwide. Recent high-profile lithium discoveries are also set to position the country as a global producer and exporter, with projects such as the 14.5-million-ton Ewoyaa mine expected to start producing from 2024.