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DailyBubble News

Mission critical: How Africa can profit from its mineral boom

In the tree-topped southern hills of Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, the sprawling Balama mining complex looms out of the crimson earth. Here, employees of Australia’s Syrah Resources work a 107-megatonne graphite reserve which will help to power electric vehicles manufactured by Elon Musk’s Tesla, the most valuable car maker in the world.

Surface explosions at the site throw up clouds of red-grey dust and stones, part of a process of open-pit mining to dislodge the valuable material before it is hauled away for crushing, grinding, floating, filtering, drying, screening and bagging. On leaving a giant warehouse at Balama, the concentrate of graphite – a crystalline form of carbon – is transported to the Indian Ocean port of Nacala for its onward journey to the global market.  

From the third quarter of this year, Balama produce will make its way to a new Syrah facility in Vidalia, Louisiana – funded with a loan of up to $107m from the US Department of Energy – in which the concentrate will be processed into natural graphite active anode material for electric vehicle batteries.

In December 2021, Syrah signed a four-year deal with Tesla to supply graphite anode from the plant – a relief for a carmaker which has struggled to secure supplies in the US at the specifications and capacity it requires. With the Balama mine having an expected life of over 50 years, the deal could be the start of a lucrative relationship.

The sophisticated supply chain linking the mines of Mozambique with a processing plant in Louisiana and the high-tech automaker of California is a potent illustration of the global reach and growing importance of the critical minerals industry – a sector that will play a key role in this century’s geopolitical trends – including the shift from a fossil-fuel to a renewables economy and the US-China contest for global hegemony.

Nowhere will this be played out more intensely than in Africa, which once again finds itself at the centre of a resources scramble of global significance.

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