Canadian, Australian firms seek Rwanda for tantalum

Rwanda Mines chief executive says mining firms from the two countries had approached Rwanda.

Workers washing minerals at a washing station. Rwanda targets to double mineral revenues from the current $200 million to $400 million by 2017-2018 and $600 million over the next five years. PHOTO | NMG 

IN SUMMARY

  • While it is not the top producer of the coveted mineral, Rwanda has 90 per cent of the world’s coltan reserves, making it a top candidate for global processors.
  • Global demand for tantalum is continuing to expand with the proliferation of smart phones and other electronic devices, with the US, the mineral’s largest consumer, seeing a 40 per cent increase in demand in 2016.
  • Rwanda targets to double mineral revenues from the current $200 million to $400 million by 2017-2018 and $600 million over the next five years.

Companies in Canada and Australia are considering Rwanda as an alternative lower cost source for tantalum.

While it is not the top producer of the coveted mineral, Rwanda has 90 per cent of the world’s coltan reserves, making it a top candidate for global processors.

Without divulging details, Rwanda Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board chief executive Francis Gatare, said a couple of mining firms from the two countries had approached Rwanda for opportunities.

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“Some of the global companies from these countries have expressed interest in opening operations in Rwanda,” he told Rwanda Today.

According to Mr Gatare, while both Australia and Canada have been leading producers of coltan, it had become increasingly costly for them because of the hard nature of their rock formation as opposed to Rwanda, where the mineral is easily found and cheap to mine.

Tantalum or coltan is a heat-resistant element used in the manufacture of mobile phones, electric cars and other consumer electronic products.

Australia, Brazil, and Canada produced 80 per cent of the world’s coltan between them, but their output has been sliding over the past decade.

Canada produced less than four per cent of the world’s coltan supply in 2009. partly because of reserves that were more expensive to extract.

READ: Rwanda produces a third of world’s tantalum - report

Supply

Global demand for tantalum is continuing to expand with the proliferation of smart phones and other electronic devices, with the US, the mineral’s largest consumer, seeing a 40 per cent increase in demand in 2016.

The campaign against minerals from Rwanda and the DRC over the past few years also affected global supplies. Supply is however expected to recover as mineral traceability programmes open up sources in the Great Lakes Region.

ALSO READ: Is Trump’s plan to repeal conflict minerals rule a gift for Rwanda?

Mr Gatare said Rwanda has won a hard fought battle to prove the origin of its minerals through mineral traceability programmes after reports came out questioning the legitimacy of the country’s minerals, a narrative he says was started by some of these global mining corporations.

Of all the tantalum consumed by the US market in 2016, Brazil contributed 38 per cent, Rwanda 25 per cent, Australia and Canada exported eight per cent. A kilogramme of tantalum ore was selling at $193.

Rwanda was the second largest producer of tantalum in 2015 after Brazil, churning out up to 410 metric tonnes, accounting for 37 per cent of global supplies followed by the DRC with 350 metric tonnes, contributing 32 per cent to the global market.

Although Rwanda lost the top African tantalum producer crown to the DRC in 2016, producing 300 metric tonnes while, the DRC produced 450 metric tonnes, the country’s prospects for tantalum production look positive since it has been reported to hold 90 per cent of the world’s coltan reserves. The country also recently discovered rare earth minerals such as gemstones, cobalt, iron and lithium.

Prices

The US is reported to have about 1,500 tonnes of tantalum reserves in confirmed deposits, but the bulk of these are considered uneconomical to mine at current prices.

Despite the recent downturn in global commodity prices, Rwanda is stepping up its efforts to increase its income from minerals through value addition.

The country has been exporting all of its mineral ores as raw mineral concentrates which combined with the global commodity crash saw revenues fall over the past three years.

International prices for tin fell by 38 per cent, wolfram 25 per cent, while coltan fell by 22 per cent.

The country’s revenues from mineral exports dropped from $226 million in 2013 to $206 million in 2014 and $150 million in 2015, and up to 37,800 miners were left jobless as some companies suspend operations.

The exported value of coltan, tin and Wolfram declined from $117.81 million in 2015 to $86.42 million in 2016, according to data from the National Bank of Rwanda.

The industry is slowly recovering globally metals’ prices increased by 10 per cent in 2016Q4, the third consecutive quarter of gain as a result of increase in China’s demand for metals.

“Our goal is to achieve industrial mining, to attain this we need significant investments into the sector,” Mr Gatare said.

Rwanda targets to double mineral revenues from the current $200 million to $400 million by 2017-2018 and $600 million over the next five years.

The sectors contribution to GDP is projected to grow from 1.2 per cent currently to 5.27 per cent in 2018.

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