Feb 7, 2023
Mining Firm ERG to Spend $1.8 Billion Doubling African Copper, Cobalt Output
(Bloomberg) -- Eurasian Resources Group Sarl, the mining firm backed by Kazakhstan, plans to spend $1.8 billion doubling its African copper and cobalt output as it taps demand for metals needed for the green-energy transition.
The four-year expansion in the Democratic Republic of Congo comes after cobalt prices almost halved over the past year because of a supply glut. A projected surge in demand for the battery material as more electric vehicles are made puts ERG in a strong position, according to Chief Executive Officer Benedikt Sobotka.
“Six years ago, no one really cared. We were just the guys from the dark side of the moon,” Sobotka said in an interview on Tuesday from Cape Town, where he is attending the Investing in African Mining Indaba conference. “Now we’re actually at the center of a lot of attention, both from policy makers and the host government.”
Currently the company produces 200,000 tons of copper and 25,000 tons of cobalt annually at the mines across the central African copperbelt.
If future EV production forecasts are correct, “we need a lot more cobalt and a lot more copper,” the CEO said. “Most of our projects are in a state where we are actually ready for construction.”
Most of the output being consumed currently is from deposits that were discovered more than a decade ago and many other miners will take years to develop new projects, Sobotka said.
To power its projects in Congo, where electricity supply from the grid is erratic, the company is considering investing in small hydro plants as well as solar and battery storage. Sobotka is skeptical that the company will proceed with an earlier plan to build a coal-fired plant of at least 600 megawatts in Mozambique because of the absence of adequate transmission capacity to get the electricity to Congo. With projected consumption of 150 megawatts to 200 megawatts, the company could also struggle to find buyers for the excess power, he said.
ERG holds assets, including several mining projects in Congo, that belonged to Eurasian Natural Resources Corp., which was once among the 100 most-valuable companies listed on the London Stock Exchange. The UK’s Serious Fraud Office has been investigating ENRC since 2013 for alleged corruption in its deals in Congo.
ERG, which isn’t under investigation, is owned by the same shareholders that controlled ENRC. The probe, one of the SFO’s longest, hasn’t resulted in charges against ENRC and the company denies any wrongdoing.
While ERG — 40% held by the Kazakh government — has no immediate plans to list on a stock exchange, if it did so it would be in Canada, Sobotka said.
“The question is, if we were to go and list with this kind of portfolio, will people appreciate the potential?” he said.
The developments in Congo come as ERG expects its first production of platinum group metals from Zimbabwe in the next two years. Construction of a concentrator plant at the Bokai platinum project is expected to start toward the end of the year, Sobotka said. Ultimately the mine could be the size of Anglo American Platinum Ltd.’s Unki mine, which has output of about 200,000 ounces of platinum group metals a year.
The progress at Bokai comes as Zimbabwe’s state mining company Kuvimba Mining House Ltd. struggles to get its own Darwendale project off the ground.
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