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The continent’s rich resources, including cobalt and lithium, mean African miners will be key players as the world switches to electric vehicles and wind and solar power. For the moment, though, platinum and palladium for fuel-injection vehicles are very much in demand.

 

Loose talk from mining companies about “sustainability” irritates their critics, who point out that

it cannot be sustainable to extract minerals such as copper or cobalt that are non-renewable resources. Mining companies may, however, be on surer ground when they stress their contribution to the ‘green economy’.

 

The world’s billions of petrol and diesel engines are a massive known source of carbon emissions, and the electric vehicles (EVs) and batteries that can replace them all depend on components that only mining companies can supply. Global consumers, however, still prefer petrol and diesel vehicles to electric ones. Chinese state subsidies on electric vehicles and increasingly steep fines imposed by the European Union on their fuel-­vehicle manufacturers is pushing up demand for EVs, nonetheless.

 

Kinshasa’s cobalt gamble

This in turn drives continued demand for the minerals with which to make them. A 2020 World Bank report states: ‘Production of graphite, lithium and cobalt will need to be significantly ramped up by more than 450% by 2050 — from 2018 levels — to meet demand from energy-­storage technologies.’

 

  • EV batteries – and most batteries now used to store solar power – have as their core ingredients nickel, lithium, cobalt and manganese. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) produces an estimated 70% of the world’s cobalt supply, and its government likes to describe itself as the OPEC of cobalt.

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