The Power of Mineral in Saving the Planet

The Power of Mineral in Saving the Planet

by Ina King (Potgieter) April 25, 2019

Mining, as most of us are aware, is a major contributor of emissions into our atmosphere and is one of the largest users of electricity. It seems almost contradictory therefore, when we say that mining for specific materials – or resources – is necessary to help reduce certain emissions and to help save power.

As the 4th Industrial Revolution gains momentum so do our technological advancements, as can be seen by the progress experienced with electric cars around the world. It will be some time however, before our petrol and diesel powered vehicles are fully replaced by the electric version. In the meantime, we need to make do with current status quo. Palladium, graphite and lithium found in mines around the world, including a number of African mines, have the potential to aid in energy consumption reduction and minimise the emissions with which we pollute our planet.

Palladium

The largest use of palladium (a PGM mineral) is in catalytic converters, which convert as much as 90% of harmful exhaust gases into less toxic substances.

Palladium is a key component of fuel cells, which react hydrogen with oxygen to produce electricity, heat and water. Because of this, it is used in numerous industries like electronics, dentistry, medicine, hydrogen purification, chemical applications, groundwater treatment and jewellery.

Palladium ore deposits are rare, and the numerous applications and limited supply sources provide considerable investment opportunities.

During the first quarter of 2019, there was only one operational palladium project – the Two Rivers Mine in South Africa, jointly owned by Impala Platinum and African Rainbow Minerals. The underground mine project is in the operational phase and has a current capital value of R1 billion. Full year production for 2019 is estimated to increase from 160 000 to 170 000 ounces in concentrate.

Graphite

Graphite is the most stable form of carbon under standard conditions, and its versatility makes it useable for various applications. It is extremely soft, cleaves with very light pressure, and has a very low specific gravity. Graphite is used as a ‘dry’ lubricant where wet lubricants such as oil, for example, can’t be used for certain applications. Its high conductivity makes it useful in electronic products like electrons, batteries and solar panels, with the latter supplementing an area’s power grid. It is also used in pencils, and a great deal of it is used in refractory applications.

Graphite is the basis for lithium-ion batteries that power everything from laptops to smartphones and electric cars. It’s used to make the anodes of a lithium-ion battery, which is needed to make the battery function.

The interest in Tesla Motors and its premium lithium-ion-powered premium vehicles have raised the profile of batteries. Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, has pledged to build a “Gigafactory” that will produce 35G Wh of cells and 50G Wh of packs per year by 2020.

Solar farm

The Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada, compliments of the Tesla website.

There is no doubt that as the use of graphite in this growing industry increases; demand for this mineral will soar.

In the first quarter of 2019 there were no less than 23 graphite projects in Africa. Of these, five are in Madagascar, one in Malawi, seven in Mozambique and one in Namibia, with the reaming eight being mined in Tanzania.

The graphite mining project with the highest capital value is the Montepuez Graphite Project in Mozambique (East Africa) with a capital value of R1.7 billion.

Lithium

LithiumLithium and its compounds have several industrial applications which include, among others, heat-resistant glass and ceramics, lithium grease lubricants, flux additives for iron, steel and aluminium production, lithium batteries, and lithium-ion batteries. Use in these applications consumes more than three quarters of lithium production. Rechargeable batteries that use this mineral are found in laptops, cell phones and other digital devices. It is also used in aircraft manufacturing and, interestingly, in the medical industry for certain mental health medications when converted to lithium carbonate.

As of Q1 2019 there are 12 lithium projects in Africa. Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali each have two of these projects. Madagascar, Tanzania and Namibia each have one and the remaining three are in Zimbabwe. The highest capital value project on our database is the Zulu Lithium and Tantalum project in Zimbabwe, with a capital value of R799 million.

Demand may increase

Tesla's new manufacturing plant in China – in Shanghai's Lingang Industrial Zone – officially under construction with plans of an initial target of 250 000 cars a year, combined with Volkswagen’s undertaking to build 22 million vehicles over the next decade, are examples that will increase demand for these niche minerals.

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