On 6th October, I am chairing a panel at the 2021 Joburg Indaba entitled “The changing geopolitics: the new “cold war” for strategic minerals to fuel the energy transition”.

There is increasingly a consensus amongst people from all walks of life and regions of the world that we must fight back against the effects of climate change. But, I would suggest there is significantly less understanding around the metals and minerals required to drive the new technologies. What are these metals, where are they found, how are they processed, and what are their applications?

Ahead of my panel, I can do no better than offer a few quotes from an insightful book by Guillaume Pitron entitled “THE RARE METALS WAR – the dark side of clean air and digital technologies”.

In his introduction, he points out some very significant trends (direct quotes from the book are shown in italics).

The Rare Metals War“The disruptive effects of fossil fuels on the climate since the turn of the current century have driven humanity to develop new and supposedly cleaner and more efficient inventions – wind turbines, solar panels, electric batteries – that can connect to high-voltage ultra-performance grids. After the steam engine and the internal combustion engine, these “green” technologies have shifted us into a third energy and industrial revolution that is changing the world as we know it.”

“By seeking to break free from fossil fuels and turn an older order into a new world, we are in fact setting ourselves up for a new and more potent dependence. Robotics, artificial intelligence, digital healthcare, cybersecurity, medical biotechnology, connected objects, nanoelectronics, driverless cars…the most strategic sectors of the economies of the future, all the technologies that will exponentially increase our computing capacity, and modernise how we consume energy, our daily routines, and even our most significant collective choices will depend entirely on rare metals.”

“In the twenty-first century alone, their use has consolidated China’s supremacy”.     

It is thus becoming progressively more evident that while the West is promising to pursue a much more green and digital future, the reality of mining and processing the minerals and metals required to deliver this to their citizens is going to be challenging. This is true of the full range of battery metals (primarily copper, nickel, lithium, manganese, cobalt and graphite) and other strategic metals (tin, tungsten, rare earths and platinum group metals, to name a few).  A few reasons are:

  • Permitting restrictions will constrain new mines, and even where they are allowed, they can take up to ten years to bring into production.
  • Processing can be dirty, and new build of plants resisted by “NIMBY’s”.
  • Raising funds for such projects will require costing and pricing assumptions that are complex to frame with any degree of certainty at this juncture.
  • A broad swathe of the mineral resources are not found in the West, and new strategies will be needed to enter and work with the host countries and their communities, often in competition with Chinese state-sponsored entities.

Join us on Wednesday 6th for the panel discussion at the Joburg Indaba, and join the debate! Does the West have what it takes to walk the green walk, as well as just talk the green talk?