“Energy transition”, “ESG [émission d’obligations vertes, socialement responsables et durables] “,” Green hydrogen “will remain the key word of the meeting Investing in Mining Indaba 2022, appearing on the agenda of all – or almost – the presentation panels. For the continent, and in particular for South Africa, which has been hosting this event for twenty years, the urgency is particularly felt in the face of decarbonization. The country is 70% dependent on coal for its energy mix, while its unemployment rate, which is over 35%, is one of the highest in Africa. How to negotiate a reduction in the use of this fossil fuel without worsening the work situation?
South Africa’s Minister of Minerals and Energy Resources, Gwede Mantashe, set the tone of the debate at the opening of the conference on May 9: “Courage is the ability to overcome and manage fear”. The country must roll up its sleeves to ride the train of the fourth industrial revolution, he declared.
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For Demetrios Papathanasiou, World Director for Energy and Extractive Industries at the World Bank, “we need to move forward, we need to reduce our emissions, we are behind”. Tshokolo Nchocho, CEO of South African Industrial Development Corp (IDC) concluded: “We cannot afford to miss out on the industrial opportunities associated with energy transfer. And at the same time, we cannot tolerate a process that has left many people behind. , we have to be inclusive. ”The roadmap has been fixed.
Chronic underinvestment in research
Especially since everything is far from negative in the field of mining in South Africa. Rainbow Nation is home to 70% of the world’s platinum group metal (PGM) reserves, which are essential to the green hydrogen production process. But will the government be able to put in place rigid industrial policies to develop this sector when other countries have already started them, such as Morocco and Egypt?
“We are mobilized to seize the opportunities of the hydrogen economy”, assured South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, a former businessman, especially in the mines, citing the inaugural commissioning last week, of Anglo American, of the largest mining machine in the world running on green hydrogen, at the Mogalakwena site (turntables).
And Ramaphosa to go further: “We are committed to providing the necessary assistance for a new wave of exploration in nickel, rare earth and copper”. South Africa, and wider Africa, the mining industry is suffering from chronic underinvestment in finding and identifying new deposits, especially since the crisis in 2014. Mineral reserves have been developed, but not replaced.
Bet on brass?
Red metal, for cross-functional use at almost all energy transfer levels, is actually another big star of the conference, at low noise. Even the “captains of mining” have already grasped what is at stake. At Barrick’s press lunch, its emblematic leader Marc Bristow – an unconditional cantor of gold – explains without blinking that “copper is the most strategic metal today: to decarbonize the world, you need copper”.
For Hakainde Hichilema, the president of Zambia elected in August 2021, another guest of honor at Indaba 2022, the road is particularly difficult. The command of his predecessor Edgar Lungu weakened the copper industry when, ironically, the price of the metal exceeded the bar of 10,000 dollars per tonne.
In recent years, Vedanta and Glencore have withdrawn respectively from the Konkola Copper Mines and Mopani Copper Mines, which have been renationalized by the government. So North American First Quantum has now found itself the only copper operator in the country, recording annual production of 850,000 tons.
Never mind, Hichilema said he set Zambia’s production target at 3 million t/year. “We are open for business,” he calls the major brass players around the world. “We have no tolerance for corruption, Zambia is governed by the rule of law. We assure investors about the security of their assets. We support our local operators, but without using resource nationalism, ”said the Zambian president, a former businessman.
Among his first initiatives to spin the industry since he took office, the lowering of the corporate tax, the reintroduction of the deductibility of royalties, the temporary suspension of the issuance of permits for the cleaning and digitalization of the cadastre “to be able to root out corruption endemic to the sector ”.
And the signing last month of a memorandum of understanding with its neighbor, the DRC, to build a value chain on electric batteries. By 2021, the DRC will produce 1.8 million t/year of red metal, more than double that of Zambia. Not to mention cobalt, another major energy transfer metal for which the country holds 50% of the world’s reserves, and for which Zambia also has in quantity, but it has not yet been formed.