By Jessie Taylor
Africa is rich in natural minerals, which has made it home to a robust mining industry. But as the world grapples with reducing environmental impact, Africa will have to reconsider the future of its mines and mining methods.
This was the focus of the 2022 Investing in African Mining Indaba (Mining Indaba), which challenged African leaders and mining corporations to think about energy transition and transforming the continent’s mining sector.
Promoting Africa’s mining industry
The Mining Indaba, which has taken place for more than 27 years, is solely dedicated to the development of mining interests in Africa. The conference brings together visionaries and innovators across the entire value chain of the African mining industry. It is a gathering that allows for high-impact networking, deal-making, and pioneering discussions from influential leaders.
Under the theme of “Evolution of African Mining: Investing in the Energy Transition, ESG, and the Economies”, the Mining Indaba focuses on bringing change to the industry and exploring greener mining opportunities.
One of the biggest topics under discussion was hydrogen mining. There is currently minimal global production of low-carbon hydrogen, but there are encouraging signs that it may shape the future of mining on the continent.
Hydrogen offers an alternative energy source, with its use as fuel producing no direct emissions of pollutants or greenhouse gases. Most hydrogen is produced through carbon capture technologies, but there is increasing interest in generating green hydrogen through renewable energy via electrolysis. This gives Africa a decided advantage – the continent has access to low-cost and abundant renewable energy.
The International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that Africa could meet nearly a quarter of its energy needs from indigenous and clean renewable energy by 2030. Embracing this form of electricity will require the installation of electrolysis facilities and will affect the demand for minerals, particularly nickel and platinum group metals.
On home soil, the South African government is exploring ways to match up platinum mining, renewable energy, and hydrogen production to form a hydrogen hub. This hub will include hydrogen applications in an integrated ecosystem and has been mapped out in the country’s National Hydrogen Society Roadmap and Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan.
Rebooting South Africa’s mining sector
Speaking at the Mining Indaba, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that South Africa is committed to mobilising the resources necessary to encourage a new wave of exploration, particularly of the minerals required for the global energy transition.
Already a world leader in platinum group metals, South Africa plans to move its mining sector towards strategic metals such as copper, nickel, and cobalt, among others.
“We are keen to harness the opportunities of the hydrogen economy. We aim to be not only an important hub for the production and export of green hydrogen, but also of green ammonia, green iron and steel, and sustainable aviation jet fuel,” he said.
Mining has an important role in South Africa’s just energy transition, said President Ramaphosa.
“It is clear that as our reliance on coal is reduced, pathways towards new economic activity needed (sic) to be created for workers in affected industries… Countries on the African continent need to be able to explore and extract oil and gas in an environmentally-responsible and sustainable manner. These resources are important for energy security, for social and economic development, and for reducing energy poverty on the continent,” he said.
But giving South Africa’s mining sector a reboot has become essential, especially as the country was ranked as one of the 10 worst mining investment countries in the world, according to the 2021 Fraser Institute Investment Attractiveness Index.
“After more than 150 years, mining remains a critical pillar of our economy. Mining is a significant contributor to export earnings, it is an important source of foreign direct investment, and directly employs nearly half a million people,” said President Ramaphosa.
He added that many mining companies see the potential in South Africa, and their investment will play a key role in economic growth. At the fourth South Africa Investment Conference, investments of more than R46-billion were pledged towards mining and mineral beneficiation.
Mining can create great economic opportunities, but the sector can also be at the forefront of the energy transition, reducing its impact on the environment and leading the way towards a greener industry.