EDITOR: | August 26th, 2013 | 8 Comments

REE, graphite, uranium, phosphate – we have to look to Africa; Japan forges new battery, solar cell technology

| August 26, 2013 | 8 Comments

Africa is so much a key factor in all the commodities we cover here at InvestorIntel. For starters, there’s uranium — Niger is one of the world’s largest producers, Namibia is important, and there are promising leads in places like Mauritania and Guinea, and Mali. The Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) provided the uranium used in the bombs destined for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Phosphate — well, of course, Morocco is the world’s largest exporter and has by far the largest resources; but North Africa and Middle East from Morocco to Syria have been the source of about 20% of world supplies, but there’s also the expected re-emergence of Togo as a significant producer. Potash — we know all about the exciting projects in Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the potential of Mali, the Republic of Congo and Angola. Graphite, too: Mozambique and Madagascar are among the producers of the future. And then there are rare earths, so think South Africa, Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania and others.

And this, really, is only the beginning of Africa’s emergence as a key supplier of many of the critical metals needed to keep global industry and technology going.

The spectacular rise of Africa in this regard will be highlighted on Wednesday when, in Perth, Australia, the Africa Down Under conference gets under way. It’s the largest Africa mining conference outside Africa, and its growth is shown by the fact that this year it has to be split over two hotel venues.

The potential of Africa is shown by the fact that, important though they are, the products listed above take a back-seat at the conference. It is gold and copper, particularly, which dominate. There are presentations on graphite, potash, uranium and rare earths (as well as niobium), but I suggest that in future years we’ll be seeing our subjects take up a greater share of the conference’s attention. The whole story of critical commodities — and I include potash and phosphate in that category even though lists of “critical metals” tend not to. Some way is going to have to found to provide the extra food needed for the burgeoning billions of people as arable land areas dwindle.

But the future impact of potash/phosphate, REE, graphite and uranium will be increasingly recognised at conferences such as this in the years ahead. The Perth conference convenor Bill Repard has provided some perspective. When the first of these Africa Down Under meetings was held in 2003, it attracted just 70 delegates. This year there are 2,000 delegates, 135 exhibitors, 60 presentations, and the presence of 16 mining ministers from Africa, including from Botswana. Angola, Mozambique, South Africa and Nigeria.

By 2023, expect REE, uranium and the others to have affected a similar transformation in the attention of the Africa Down Under program.

TECHNOLOGY: Japan is continuing to help lead the way in the fields of batteries and solar cells.

According to the Nikkei news service, innovation in storage batteries — the ones that can handle fluctuations in production from renewable sources, storing power for times when the sun doesn’t shine, the waves don’t roll in or the wind doesn’t blow — are heading into a “new paradigm”. Hokkaido Electric Power has announced plans to install a huge redox flow battery at a substation at the town of Abira. This can store 60,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity and supply 15,000 kw/h of power when needed. It will be the largest grid-connected storage battery system in the world, according to Nikkei.

Shin-Etsu Chemical Co has developed a lithium-ion battery whose storage capacity is 10 times that of present such products. Shin-Etsu plans commercial production within four years.

Now RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia (it grew out of the highly regarded Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) is working with the Japan Science and Technology Agency to develop the next generation of solar cells. Under RMIT’s Professor Yasuhiro Tachibana, the team is working to find ways to use lower cost metals — mainly copper and antimony — in nanocrystals. Currently cadmium and/or lead are used, but these have toxicity issues. The advantage of antimony and copper is they have low toxicity, and are comparatively cheap to process.



InvestorIntel is a trusted source of reliable information at the forefront of emerging markets that brings investment opportunities to discerning investors.

Copyright © 2018 InvestorIntel Corp. All rights reserved. More & Disclaimer »


  • SeanH

    mr. bromby: out of potash/phosphate, REEs, graphite and uranium, {actually……i guess i won’t factor in uranium in my question} what commodity do you see as being the “next big thing” as far as viable companies actually going into production? no need for a disclaimer, i know you’re not giving investment advice…..i just wanted an well-versed journalist’s independent perspective. i predict you’ll say graphite and REEs.

    August 26, 2013 - 7:03 AM

    • Robin Bromby

      My answer, Sean: I think all will advance and you will see some projects in each category. Actually, in terms of complexity, progress so far and demand, you would have to think potash would be doing well: some of the projects are quite a way down the track whereas graphite will need a good deal of work and with REE there is all that complex chemistry to contend with.

      The main issue is price: companies are going to slow down to save money if their bank balances are tight and the end prices of the commodities are in retreat or stagnant.

      Sorry I can’t be more specific. The point I have been concentrating on is that, in the long term, these will all be critical in terms of supply/demand.

      August 26, 2013 - 4:50 PM

  • Dr.Copper

    If folks in Africa need to eat they will need salt before anything mentioned
    on this list. Without basic food supply which is the largest hurdle facing
    Africa on the scale of epidemic AIDS, Malaria and religious issues there
    will be only the hot money entering Africa now all the majors is leaving.

    Entrants to African riches is via Government agencies and multi lateral
    aid programs. Sundance Resources is a excellent example of how investors
    should be wary of thinking Africa will provde the World with its needs.

    Follow the majors and watch your money with great care.

    Does the author of the above article still hold Rio Tinto shares ?

    August 26, 2013 - 9:32 AM

    • Robin Bromby

      Actually, you misunderstand: I was talking about food needs globally, particularly in reference to emerging Asia where rural Chinese eat something like 10 times more meat than they did a decade ago. That’s where the big food quality and quantity issues will hit the most. The other point about African potash is that the projects are aimed at exporting rather than use in Africa; for example, South Boulder Mines sees India and China as its markets out of Eritrea while the Elemental Minerals project in Congo:Brazzaville was conceived with exporting to Brazil in mind.
      With uranium, no one expects reactors to be built in Africa in the near future or the people of Niger to become customers for their own uranium.

      If you don’t think Africa will provide others with their requirements, I suggest you call Beijing and tell them to wise up. They seem to think there’s quite a variety of commodities in Africa necessary to China’s future. (Niobium, in the case of Globe Metals, etc.)

      As for my share holdings, I will disclose those when they are relevant; otherwise, they are none of your business.

      August 26, 2013 - 4:43 PM

    • Robin Bromby

      Indeed, given your comments on various graphite companies, perhaps you might disclose your own shareholdings in this sector. What about that?

      August 26, 2013 - 4:59 PM

    • Tracy Weslosky

      Dr. Copper,

      Everyone should watch their money, thank you. I have noted that you like to comment on Robin Bromby’s articles, and perhaps I can get you to spread the love around? Before asking for anyone to disclose what stocks they own — how about you disclose who you are? I am sensing a writer?

      August 27, 2013 - 11:01 AM

      • Dr. Copper

        hi Tracy, I’m a great fan of Robin’s verses and pleased to see he is starting to debate his views and share his great knowledge. In my view he holds a balanced and appropriate view of the mining sector and has probably seen his share of commodity cycles. Its public knowledge he held (and still does) hold Rio Tinto shares. For his information I hold Zenyatta Graphite in the graphite space. Not to say I agree with his African view nonetheless I do agree that China will be starving the World in coming years. Its clear for most to see that Africa is in upheavel across the North, East and West for various reasons and the World Bank has made efforts to minimize corruption via divisional leadership to little avail. The wide spread use of mobile phones across the Continent both in rural- and tribal minorities is a banality of evil if you like to the exploration companies in Africa, and with it their investors. Africa is of course the last Continent of growth potential and with its riches is bound to continue their resource nationalisation due to internal political risks and that is not a place for junior exploration companies to venture whilst the majors is now exiting.

        That was my only point. Hope that is clear.

        August 27, 2013 - 2:25 PM

  • J. Best

    Hi Robin, thanks for this article. Africa is indeed on the precipice of great development but political stability in many areas make it a major holdback for investors. I have been following your ‘big battery’ intel and hope for more on this in upcoming reports.

    August 26, 2013 - 12:04 PM

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *