By Nelson Banya Nyasha Nyaungwa
WINDHOEK/HARARE (Reuters) – Namibia’s ambitions to become a manufacturing hub for battery metals key to the global transition to clean energy will require huge investments in infrastructure to support processing facilities, mining executives said on Wednesday.
The southern African country has significant deposits of lithium, vital for renewable energy storage, as well as rare earth minerals needed for permanent magnets in electric vehicles and wind turbines.
Last year Namibia became the first African country to sign a deal with the European Union EU to supply the bloc with green hydrogen and minerals needed for clean energy technologies.
Namibia this year banned the export of unprocessed lithium and rare earth minerals as it seeks to profit from growing global demand for metals used in renewable energy.
Mining executives attending an EU-Namibia conference on critical minerals lauded the African country for its investor-friendly policies and renewable energy resources, but said significant investment was needed before it could produce battery-ready metals.
Andrada Mining CEO Anthony Viljoen, whose company recently commissioned a lithium pilot plant at its Uis mine in western Namibia, said the country could use its collaboration with the EU to develop the large-scale infrastructure projects needed to support local processing of battery metals.
“Beneficiation gets bandied about quite freely without understanding the complexities. There needs to be a huge investment, concurrent with the development of these facilities, in infrastructure, specifically, water, power and logistics. Those big projects don’t happen overnight,” Viljoen said.
Lepidico managing director Joe Walsh said his company planned to produce lithium concentrate at its Karibib operations, but would process battery-grade lithium at its hydrometallurgical plant to be built in Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi offers immediate logistical efficiencies, an established industrial park with available shared infrastructure and “straightforward” permitting, Walsh said.
“These are very good examples of efficient, effective infrastructure that would be a huge benefit if it was to be installed, say, at Walvis Bay in Namibia. That would be a massive enabler for us to consider a Phase 2 plant within Namibia,” he said.
Analysts say sparsely populated Namibia, one of the largest and driest countries in sub Saharan Africa, has huge potential for solar and wind energy projects, key factors in the production of battery minerals.
(Reporting by Nyasha Nyaungwa in Windhoek and Nelson Banya in Harare; Editing by Mark Potter)