The increased global interest in minor metals will shape the Commodities Review and Outlook ferroalloys and minor metals’ presentation at the 2012 Investing in African Mining Indaba, says commodity research and consultancy company Core Consultants.
Feature speaker, Core Consultants MD Lara Smith, tells Mining Weekly the company will particularly highlight minor metals cobalt and tantalum, as well as rare earths, as these metals are increasingly used in everyday technology and are experiencing an increase in demand.
“Cobalt, for instance, is used in lithium batteries and, with the manufacturing of electronic devices booming, we are seeing greater demand for cobalt as most electronic devices, such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops, rely on this type of battery for power,” she explains.
Further, she notes that 50% of global cobalt reserves are along the Copperbelt in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambia, with only 5% of copper refined in the DRC and the rest refined in China.
However, Smith highlights that, although cobalt represents an opportunity for Central Africa through global demand, supply will be a challenge.
“Mining licences have been granted in the DRC but logistics are still a major concern,” she says.
Nevertheless, Smith predicts the price of cobalt will increase if supply is disrupted.
Meanwhile, tantalum, which is used in the production of capacitors for automotive and electronic equipment, is also experiencing increased demand.
“Supply of tantalum was traditionally supplemented by secondary sources, including DLA inventory sales and recycling. However, in 2007, the DLA ceased selling tantalum.
“Recycling has become increasingly costly as, in many instances, the recovery costs outweigh the extraction of tantalum owing to the miniaturisation of electronic devices.”
Also experiencing high demand are rare earths, the bulk of which are concentrated and produced in China.
Smith says substantial funds have been raised by Japan and invested in the research and development of rare earths recycling methods, as more countries attempt to diversify away from reliance on Chinese rare- earth material.
She notes that the introduction of new rare earths producers in other countries will be costly, compared with China, where the orebodies are more favourable and amenable to extraction and capital, and labour and environment costs are lower.
Smith will also provide Core Consultants’ price projections for these metals to attendees of this year’s Mining Indaba.