Critical minerals are metals, non-metals and rare-earth elements essential for high-tech and clean energy applications. They include lithium for batteries, cobalt for electric vehicles, and rare earths for wind turbines.
The EU defines critical minerals as having high economic importance combined with high supply risks. The more a mineral is needed for key technologies yet concentrated in a few countries, the more “critical” it becomes.
The global transition to clean energy and green technology is impossible without critical minerals.
These rare commodities are essential components in solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicle batteries, energy-efficient lighting, and other green innovations. Demand for critical minerals like lithium, cobalt, nickel and rare earths could expand up to 1,000% over the next decades as more countries and companies adopt sustainable solutions.
With its substantial reserves, Southern Africa has an opportunity to not only supply raw critical minerals to the world but also manufacture the advanced components that enable the widespread adoption of green technology locally and globally. By moving up the value chain, the region can drive the growth of electric mobility, renewable energy, and other climate-friendly industries that rely on critical minerals while reaping economic rewards.
Simply exporting raw critical minerals fails to capture the full value chain potential – from jobs to innovation to revenues. Beneficiation, however, enables mineral-rich countries to reap more economic and development gains.
Downstream processing allows Southern African nations to manufacture the advanced metals, chemicals and components that underpin the green tech revolution. From lithium-ion batteries to solar panels to magnets, critical minerals can catalyse expansive new regional industries.
With strategic foresight and smart investments, Southern Africa can position itself as a full-fledged critical minerals hub. But this requires building refining, smelting and manufacturing capacity plus skills, not just mining more raw materials for export.
Fully leveraging the region’s vast critical mineral wealth hinges on retaining more value locally through industrial transformation. With the right policy incentives, critical minerals can help drive Africa’s industrial revolution.
The future competitiveness of Southern African economies may well depend on how judiciously they leverage their critical mineral resources today.