+27 71 448 3496

Africa’s tin still unexplored

Share Article
Africa’s tin still unexplored
Tin solder is used as a glue in most new technology. Image credit: This is engineering from Unsplash.

Africa’s tin still unexplored

Tin is critical mineral that is abundant in Africa. However, its significance is often overlooked.

By Leon Louw, owner of WhyAfrica and editor of the WhyAfrica magazine.

While minerals like copper, cobalt, lithium, and Rare Earth Elements constitute the artificial cerebrum of our new world, tin acts as one of its neurons. Let’s say tin is the interface between humanity and a complex artificial metaverse.

The importance of tin in a sustainable future world stretches much further than the billions of tin-plated beer cans (referred to as “tins” in Britain and “tinnies” in Australia) that were produced in the past.

The silvery metal, on the US Geological Survey’s list of 35 critical minerals since 2018, has been described by many futurists as the glue that will bind together the machines needed to interface with the virtual and robotic worlds. The secret is solder, made from tin, and needed as a glue in all new technology.

Africa’s tin still unexplored
To be part of the 2024 WhyAfrica Road Trip story send me an e-mail on leon@whyafrica.co.za

Tin in AI (Africa’s tin still unexplored)

Tin is also used in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) space.

AI is an emerging technology that will be a catalyst for tin growth over the next 20 years. The reasons: Graphic Processing Units (GPUs). To use AI requires powerful GPUs, and a lot of them.

GPUs are specialised data processors that are necessary for machine learning, video editing, and gaming. They are mostly used in computers and data centers.

Tin is used as solder and a protective coating to avoid corrosion of the panels within the printed circuit boards of the GPU.

According to Harsh Chauhan at The Motley Fool demand for GPUs is growing at an annual pace of 23.5%, while demand for tin in this application is expected to increase significantly until the end of the decade.

ChatGPT, a large language model trained by OpenAI is a prime example of the role of GPUs in AI. UBS analyst Timothy Arcuri estimated that ChatGPT used around 10,000 Nvidia GPUs to train the model. Nvidia is a company that controls more than 90% of the GPU market.

According to Nvidia, the number of GPUs will increase as the AI model becomes more complex, needs more processing power to incorporate new data, and allows access to a greater number of users.

Open AI is the most prominent player in the AI market but companies like Alibaba, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Snapchat, Apple, and Baidu have all begun work on creating their own versions, and it is anticipated that many new companies will be formed to tap into this market.

The need for GPUs will expand, and therefore the need for tin in this sector will expand with it. The role of tin in a world transition is already critical, and its role will become even more important in the future.

Are we investing in the future? (Africa’s tin still unexplored)

Investing in tin is thus investing in the future. Even though Africa hosts significant tin deposits, the tin sector in Africa is often overlooked and its significance undervalued. In total Africa produces only a little more than 12% of the world’s tin supply.

In Africa an estimated 53% of mined tin supply originates from artisanal and small-scale mining operations. However, projects to formalise and develop artisanal mining operations are increasingly prevalent across the continent.

Globally, many tin producing countries often experience challenges that puts a damper on production and supply.

China and Indonesia which account for more than half of the global supply of tin, for example often have issues with illegal mining and processing.

Furthermore, production at one the largest suppliers globally, the San Rafael de Minsur Mining Unit in Peru, is often interrupted because of community protests. San Rafael is responsible for close to 9% of global production.

In Myanmar the United WA State Army (UWSA) suspended mining work in the regions of Myanmar that it controls, representing about 10% of the world’s tin concentrate supply.

This had a significant impact on Chinese tin production as it sources about three quarters of its imports from Myanmar.

Africa’s tin still unexplored

According to the International Tin Association (ITA) tin reached an almost two-year high of USD34,575 on 20th May. Even though tin remains in demand, there are only a handful of early-stage exploration projects for new tin deposits in Africa.

Significant deposits of tin are known to occur in countries like South Africa, Namibia, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and further north. There are tin operations in the DRC (Alphamin’s Bisie mine is one of the highest-grade deposits in the world), Andrada in Namibia has been producing tin for a number of years and smaller operations are producing tin in Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, but this happens on a small scale and in a region plagued by instability and security concerns.

The launch of Woodcross Resources’ tin refinery at Mbarara in Uganda earlier this year was a significant step in that part of the world.

The company has been developing this facility since a series of regulatory changes prohibited concentrate exports and has become the first integrated tin producer in Uganda.

The Woodcross facility is only the third tin smelter on the continent. Despite Africa’s contribution of 12% of mined tin in 2023, smelting capacity in Africa is very limited.

Existing operations in Rwanda and in DRC together provide only 0.3% of global refined tin supply, with the vast majority of tin concentrates being exported to smelters in Asia.

The new facility in Mbarara district has a nameplate throughput capacity of 1,600 tonner per annum (tpa), with output approximately 1,000tpa of LME-conformant tin ingots grading 99.85% tin. The refinery is located under 50 km from Woodcross’ two existing mines at Ntungamo and Isingiro.

According to the International Tin Association Uganda is a small tin producer, with mined tin production less than 1,000 tpa, but the opening of the country’s first tin refinery marks a significant milestone for the reopening of the Ugandan tin industry.

New mining regulations (Africa’s tin still unexplored)

In 2022, new mining regulations came into force in Uganda, introducing a new licensing regime and an effective ban on concentrate exports.

In December 2023, Energy & Mineral Development Minister Dr Nankabirwa announced statutory changes to reinforce this with an increased minimum export grade for tin of 99.85%, aligning with the Government’s wider mineral strategy for increased value addition.

While Woodcross Resources’ development plans for their two mining licences and four additional exploration permits have been on hold since the regulatory changes, the completion of the commissioning of their refinery will allow the company to continue plans to formalise artisanal operations and develop its small-scale mining operations.

Demand for tin continues increasing and with other parts of the world in shambles, Africa’s role in global production and supply, will become critical on the future. The question is are we telling Africa’s tin story?

Africa’s tin still unexplored

Africa’s tin still unexplored
Book with Endorphin Expeditions. We create African adventures. https://endorphinexpeditions.co.za/contact/


Share Article


AgricultureEnvironmental Management & Climate ChangeEnergyESGInfrastructureMiningPolitical EconomyTourism and ConservationWater Management