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Pensana a first mover in Angola’s mineral awakening

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The Benguela rail line and Lobito Corridor will play an important role in the development of Angola’s mining sector. During WhyAfrica’s recent 2023 WhyAfrica Road Trip, we followed the rail line for almost 300km. Image credit: Leon Louw for WhyAfrica

Pensana a first mover in Angola’s mineral awakening         

With several early-stage exploration projects underway in Angola, UK based Pensana is one of the first movers to develop a mining project from scratch in the country regarded by many pundits as the new mining hotspot in Africa.

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

Pensana is forging ahead with the development of its Longonjo neodymium-praseodymium oxide (NdPr) project close to the city of Huambo in central Angola. Angola’s privatisation drive has resulted in a surge of new exploration projects by both major and junior mining companies across the country.

Better known for its prolific oil deposits and great diamond mines, the Angolan government under President João Lourenço has stepped up a gear to diversify the country’s economy away from oil. Lourenço has been relentless in his effort to rid the government of mismanagement and corruption so prevalent under the previous regime of José Eduardo dos Santos.

In Diamantino Azevedo, Angola has one of the best ministers of mineral resources in Africa. Azevedo has a long history in the oil and mining industries and regards the mining sector’s growth and development as a top priority for the country.

A top mining spot in Africa (Pensana a first mover in Angola’s mineral awakening)

Angola is rich in natural resources and host spectacular mineral deposits of all shapes and sizes. The presence of large mining companies like Anglo American, De Beers, Kumba Iron Ore and Rio Tinto illustrates the fact that the country could be one of the top mining spots in Africa within the next few years.

Rio Tinto is prospecting for copper in the Moxico province and has entered a joint venture with Angolan state-owned diamond company Endiama to explore the Chiri kimberlite for diamonds in the Lunda Sul region.

The mining giant has secured a 75% stake in the first phase of the 35-year agreement, while Endiama has retained a 25% interest, according to government statements. The contract leaves open the possibility for Endiama to increase its holding to 49%.

Meanwhile, Anglo American signed five mining investment contracts with the Angolan Ministry of Mineral Resources and Petroleum in November 2019. Three of these projects are for copper, cobalt and nickel in the Cunene Province, while the other two license areas are located in the Moxico Province where large deposits of copper, cobalt and silver have been identified.

Anglo has also been looking at a Rare Earth deposit in the Cunene province. De Beers is focussing on diamond projects in Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul and Kumba is interested in iron ore deposits of which the exact location is unknown.

It is not only the majors that are venturing into Angola though. Several junior mining companies have been awarded exploration licenses for lesser-known minerals. The renewable energy boom and new technology have increased demand for battery metals and other minerals used in high-tech innovations.

Connecting East and West (Pensana a first mover in Angola’s mineral awakening)

Pensana secured funding from major shareholders in 2019, including more than USD7-million from the Angolan Sovereign Wealth Fund. The company listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2020. Its Longonjo project is less than 300km from the Ports of Benguela and Lobito on the west coast of Angola and is about 4km from a sealed national highway and adjacent to the Chinese-built USD1.8-billion Benguela rail line that connects the port of Lobito, on the Atlantic, with Huambo. The Benguela rail line forms the centre of the Lobito Corridor which connects the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Zambia with the port of Lobito.

The US International Development Finance Corporation recently announced that they would invest USD250-million in financing the Lobito Atlantic Railway Corridor to connect the DRC Copperbelt with the Port of Lobito. The Lobito Corridor is anticipated to become one of most important rail transport infrastructure systems within the South African Development Community (SADC) region over the next 25 years.

This announcement followed the award of a USD450-million contract by the Angolan Ministry of Transport to a consortium of Trafigura, Mota-Engil and Vecturis to operate and maintain the Benguela railway through to the DRC Copperbelt on a private concession basis, as part of the Lobito Corridor development.

Pensana says this development will have a positive impact on Longonjo’s transport logistics during the construction period and for reagent and product transport during operations.

At full production and after completing the phased development, Longonjo will target production of up to 38,000 tonnes per year of refined Mixed Rare Earth product containing 14,000 tonnes of TREO and up to 4,400 tonnes of NdPr oxide, equating to around 5% of the global annual production of NdPr oxides for downstream processing or sale on the international market.

According to Pensana CEO, Tim George, Longonjo hosts one of the world’s largest undeveloped Rare Earth deposits, containing a JORC Compliant Ore Reserve of over 166,000 tonnes of NdPr oxide.

“The mine has an initial 20-year mine life with considerable exploration potential to extend the resource base both immediately below the existing orebody as well as at the recent discoveries on the nearby Coola exploration licence,” says George.

“The team is on schedule with the Stage 1 re-engineering to the USD200-million Capex design and are also well advanced on the financial due diligence for the main financing later this year.

“Longonjo hosts a high-grade, near surface magnet metal rare-earth orebody, with direct access to affordable hydroelectric power and the Lobito Corridor rail and port infrastructure. Longonjo will produce a highly marketable, clean (radionuclide-free), Mixed Rare Earth Carbonate independent of the timing of any other developments.” says George.

Earlier this week Pensana reported analytical results received from sampling that was done at the Sulima West and Benge Novo targets last year. Sulima West and Benge Novo occur within the Coola exploration license which is located about 40km north of Longonjo.

According to Pensana’s Exploration Manager, Grant Hayward, the results of the soil sampling over Sulima West identified an area of roughly 15 hectares with greater than 2% TREO in the soil.

“The soil anomaly includes the Trench 1 where very encouraging REE results were sampled in November last year. We suspect that the REE enriched regolith represents the near surface expression of a deeply weathered supergene enriched carbonatite as is the case at Longonjo. In addition, high grade, regolith hosted, residual apatite has been identified at Sulima West with grab samples of over 20% P2O5 reported. Ground geophysical surveys including magnetics/radiometrics and gravity commenced in August 2023 with resulting data to be utilised for further target generation.

“Further trench and pit sampling of the soil anomaly and prospective geophysical targets will take place later in the year once the geophysical data has been processed and interpreted,” says Hayward.

If there is one country to keep an eye on it is Angola. There are challenges for sure, but the country’s mining potential is massive. The government has done decent geophysical surveys up to now, although there are still many unknowns. Licenses are still on offer, and first movers like Pensana will be well rewarded.

Pensana a first mover in Angola’s mineral awakening

WhyAfrica visited the Moxico Province in Angola as part of our recent 2023 WhyAfrica Road Trip through Western Zambia, Angola, Malawi, Botswana and South Africa. Read more about Angola in the next issue of the WhyAfrica magazine and remember if you sign up as a WhyAfrica member, you get a full report about our recent Road Trip as well as a long list of additional benefits.  

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Pensana a first mover in Angola’s mineral awakening  

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