Metals of Africa is on a mission to create environmentally friendly graphite for use in lithium-ion batteries and it is developing mining and production facilities to meet the world’s rising demand for the mineral.
Cherie Leeden, managing director of the ASX-listed Metals of Africa, says the shift towards renewable energy is driving demand for graphite.
The company is confident it can supply battery manufacturers with a superior and greener product that costs as little as a third of synthetic graphite.
“We are looking forward to becoming a supplier of choice due to our high ethical standards, combined with exceptional quality graphite product,” Leeden said.
“Metals of Africa places a huge emphasis on environmental best practice and full transparency with respect to our graphite’s clean processing technology.”
The company’s two mining projects are in Montepuez and Balama in Mozambique, home to some of the world’s purest flake graphite. Metals of Africa says graphite from its mines, expected to come on line in 2018, will offer significant cost and quality advantages.
“Metals of Africa’s key point of difference is that due to the high quality-high grade and low impurity- of the natural flake graphite from the company’s graphite projects in Mozambique, (the company) has the potential to produce a natural flake spherical graphite of superior quality to the synthetic graphite currently used in the lithium-ion batteries market,” Leeden said.
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“The company’s natural graphite may be able to be produced at a significantly lower cost than synthetic graphite, due to the high grade of its graphite and, potentially, low operating costs, and production may be achieved without the use of potentially environmentally harmful chemicals.
“Mozambique hosts the world’s biggest and best graphite deposits. It is naturally blessed with very high-grade graphite material. The lends itself to very low mining and processing cost. The material is relatively soft, which translates to low extraction costs. This is as simple as a mining process can get.”
From 2008 the company proposes initially to produce 100,000t of graphite from about 1mt of ore. About half is expected to be sold as natural flake graphite, and the rest will be processed for the spherical graphite. A definitive feasibility study (DFS) is scheduled for release next month, and will be a milestone for the company towards its goal of supplying environmentally friendly anode material for use in lithium-ion batteries.
“We are different to most graphite companies because we have the ability to produce anode-ready spherical graphite at our pilot plant, which is located in the United States,” Leeden said.
“We expect to be able to supply battery manufacturers with a refined product, using heat purification rather than acid, in order to supply a clean and green spherical graphite product of choice.
“Metals of Africa will be able to supply lithium-ion battery manufacturers with a fully qualified product that can be traced 100% back to its source.”
Metals of Africa’s pilot plant is fully operational and, over the coming months, the company will be supplying several battery companies with its cleaner test product.
A key selling point is that it uses heat purification to treat the graphite, rather than acid purification, which can often involve the highly toxic substance hydrofluoric acid.
Acid purification is widely used in China, home to much of the world’s graphite. Leeden said a global push towards legislation that requires certification and authenticity of origin of battery minerals and materials will help drive demand for clean graphite and displace some of the existing supply that comes from more dubious sources.
“If companies promote clean product solutions such as electric vehicles, it follows that they should also be sourcing their battery minerals from a supply chain that is environmentally sound and the subject of acceptable mining and processing practices,” she says.
“There needs to be a lot more accountability and traceability of battery minerals, as currently most of the world’s graphite (and cobalt) is being sourced from environmentally and socially questionable jurisdictions.”
According to a research note from stockbroking firm Morgans, Metals of Africa has been steadily progressing its Mozambique projects towards producing clean and quality graphite.
“Metals of Africa, and neighbour Syrah Resources, have the highest grade resources of the Africanfocussed players,” analyst Tim Betlem said, “While Metals of Africa has a much smaller recourse of 62 million metric tons, the reduced scale of their planned mining activities means that Montepeuz and Balama have sufficient resources to support a proposed 60-year mining operation. The high grade, continuous and shallow nature of the deposit should make for simple and cost-effective open-pit mining.
Metals of Africa continues to tick the right boxes at Montepeuz. We look forward to watching the company as it approaches several key milestones and price catalysts.”