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Lessons from the past should guide battery minerals race in DRC

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Battery minerals are often found in areas where mining has previously been non-existent. Livelihoods in these areas have been based on subsistence agriculture and fishing for centuries, so mining is likely to cause major social disruption that needs to be carefully managed. Image credit: Leon Louw for WhyAfrica

Lessons from the past should guide battery minerals race in DRC   

In the race for battery minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and other African countries, mining can learn from its past lessons to ensure sustainability and positive local impact.

According to Vis Reddy, chairman of SRK Consulting South Africa, the mining industry has made considerable strides in international best practice, including vital areas such as community engagement.

“As the world moves toward a low-carbon future (decarbonisation) and global economies demand higher production of minerals and metals for batteries, there is an opportunity to give mining a fresh start on a more sustainable footing since many of these minerals occur in areas that do not have a historical association with mining,” says Reddy.

“In recent decades, for instance, miners globally have learned a great deal about how communities are impacted by mining and what stakeholders expect from these operations.”

Raising ESG bar (Lessons from the past should guide battery minerals race in DRC)

Reddy says that the bar has been continually raised in terms of environmental, social and governance (ESG) requirements, and that good practice is being developed apace to meet these demands.

While jobs are created when mines start, and infrastructure is invariably upgraded to the advantage of local communities, there are many other ways that the local benefits of mining can be enhanced and shared.

“In the past, role players like local communities were often neglected in the planning and operation of mines. This is now changing, and there are strategies, frameworks, and expertise available for mining to achieve win-win solutions with communities and make an even greater contribution to economic development,” Reddy adds.

Constructive solutions for artisanal mining (Lessons from the past should guide battery minerals race in DRC)

According to Philippe Katuta, a stakeholder engagement specialist in SRK Congo’s office in Lubumbashi, the prevalence of artisanal mining is also an important issue for mining companies to address constructively.

“In countries where jobs are scarce, communities have high expectations of mining – and this has led to artisanal mining across many different minerals. Artisanal mining has grown on the back of increased global demand for battery metals and mining companies need to develop innovative solutions that involve those artisanal miners and communities who are involved in artisanal mining on or near their operations,” says Katuta.

SRK had been doing pioneering work in the DRC and other countries on engaging all mining stakeholders to ensure so that there is mutual benefit in their cooperation. Health and safety issues are of serious concern and an important element of the solution focused engagements.

“Working in collaboration with SRK offices in China and South Africa, SRK Congo has been applying good international ESG practice in DRC. This allows us to harness world-class expertise while communicating clearly with clients across language and cultural barriers,” says Katuta.

Growing complexity (Lessons from the past should guide battery minerals race in DRC)

Alexander Thin, principal consultant in project evaluation and mining in SRK’s Chinese practice, says that the mining of battery minerals in the DRC has resulted in more environmental challenges.

While the traditional mining of copper and cobalt in the country is well established and understood, the mining and processing of battery minerals could be more complex.

The processing of lithium, for example, requires crushing and concentration followed by pyrometallurgical conversion and finally hydrometallurgical processing,” says Thin. “This affects the environmental impact and risks of mining and processing operations, as well as the whole footprint of the mine.”

Human rights focus (Lessons from the past should guide battery minerals race in DRC)

Principal environmental specialist at SRK, Wouter Jordaan, spends regular time in the DRC emphasises the growing focus on human rights in mine planning and development.

This has a special relevance for the mining of battery minerals in the DRC, as these deposits are often found in areas where mining was either non-existent or small-scale. Mining in some of these areas collapsed around the 1980s following declining global demand for tin and falling commodity prices.

“Livelihoods in areas like this have been based on subsistence agriculture and fishing for centuries, so mining is likely to cause major social disruption that needs to be carefully managed,” says Jordaan.

In addition to the introduction of formal mining – which complies with national regulations and good industry practice – there will also invariably be the complexity of artisanal mining, which is less controlled and could lead to various other social and environmental problems.

“When mining begins in this kind of territory, there will need to be infrastructure improvements and rapid urban development. The mining companies who are there first really need to set the standard for those that follow – by planning responsibly for their inevitable impacts,” Jordaan concludes.

Vis Reddy, chairman of SRK Consulting South Africa says the mining industry has made considerable strides in international best practice, including vital areas such as community engagement.

Lessons from the past should guide battery minerals race in DRC

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Lessons from the past should guide battery minerals race in DRC   

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