How this African company plans to take advantage of the world’s rush for battery metals

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By Chris Bishop

When the young Fortune Mojapelo (pictured) used to take a taxi from his township to the nearby small town of Kwekwe in Zimbabwe he used to marvel at the huge, imposing, chrome refineries that loomed large by the roadside – never thinking, for a moment, that one day he would be in mining poised to take over 10% of supply of one of the planet’s most sought after minerals destined to power our future.

Mojapelo left Que Que, in the heart of Zimbabwe’s chrome belt, to go to the University of Cape Town to study actuarial science. He spent a few years as a management consultant before applying his skills to a consortium seeking mineral rights in South Africa. They succeeded and Mojapelo, then in his early 30s, became a founder of Bushveld Minerals, which listed on AIM in London in 2017.

Now the South African company is gearing up to take advantage of the world rush for battery metals expected to see the world market increase 122 times in the next 20 years. An expansion expected to attract $660 billion in capital expenditure to unearth more metals like cobalt, lithium and vanadium that will make the batteries that will power the world’s cars, factories and mines. This transformation, expected to be led by Chinese manufacturers, will replace fossil fuels with electricity to diminish the world’s carbon footprint.

“My only question is can Africa keep up with this demand,” says Mojapelo speaking the CNBC Africa at the Mining Indaba in Cape Town, “I think we can and our company is expanding to make sure we can.”

Bushveld Minerals, with its Vametco Mine employing 600 workers in Brits west of Johannesburg, is investing to treble production to 8400 mt in the next five years. The company, which supplies the steel industry in the United States and Asia,  currently supplies 3% of world demand and hopes to expand this to 10%.

Mojapelo is also planning to invest in a factory to make the batteries from the mined vanadium. He agrees that Africa should be extracting more from its raw minerals.

Benedikt Sobotka, the head of the Global Battery Alliance set up by the World Economic Forum, said at the Mining Indaba that Africa needed to get busy making batteries as well as mining the raw materials.

“If you look at a cell phone battery, it can retail for a thousand dollars, while the raw materials can cost cents. That is how much money can be made in the battery business and Africa needs to get into it, “says Sobotka.            

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