China currently dominates the processing of minerals used in the production of electric vehicles, but many of the minerals themselves are mined in Africa. Now, mining companies are building alternative processing facilities in Africa to avoid shipping the materials to China. Alexandra Wexler reports in The Wall Street Journal:
Pressure to create supply chains for electric-vehicle batteries that bypass China is prompting Western miners to do something they have long avoided: process their metals in Africa.
China dominates both the production and processing of critical minerals such as cobalt and lithium that are key to the energy transition. That has led to growing concerns among Western governments, including in Washington, about their dependence on Beijing.
Now, some Western companies and investors are starting to build processing plants in Africa so they can refine the raw materials they mine on the continent locally and export them directly to Europe and the U.S.
The investments show how Western executives have become more willing to swallow the risks associated with many African countries, including poor infrastructure, limited skilled labor and, in some places, a reputation for government corruption. By building processing facilities, companies are also meeting demands from African governments that have long called for more local processing for metals and minerals extracted from their soil.
Australian mining behemoth BHP Group has invested $100 million since 2022 in a nickel mine in Tanzania along with U.S.-based Lifezone Metals, with plans to build a processing plant to refine the metal in the country. The plant, which the company says will be the first of its kind in Africa, is expected to deliver battery-grade nickel to the U.S. and global market in 2026.
“The timing is great for us right now,” said Chris Showalter, chief executive of Lifezone. “It will be pretty sought after.”
Investments in processing facilities in Africa are likely to rise given the expected boom in demand for battery metals and China’s current dominance of the industry, said Jacques Nel, head of Africa Macro at Oxford Economics Africa. Those dynamics “indeed make this seem like the beginning of a trend,” he said.
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