Namibia, known for diamonds and deserts, wants to get in on the rechargeable battery boom

Riches beneath the dunes.
Riches beneath the dunes.
Image: AP Photo/John Parkin
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Namibia could have its first cobalt mine in 2020, making it the latest country to get in on the world’s insatiable need for rechargeable batteries.

Cobalt was only discovered in 2012 in the country’s northwestern Kunene region. Now mining companies are reporting that initial exploration shows there could be enough of the metal to make Namibia a competitive cobalt producer. As the price of cobalt surges thanks to the demand for rechargeable batteries in everything from phones to cars, this latest discovery could be a boon for Namibia’s economy.

Australian mining company Celsius Resources secured tenure over the 1470 square kilometer (568 square miles) area, and last week announced that its investment in the Opuwu Cobalt project has paid off. It’s still early in the exploration process, but Celsius is confident about the grade of cobalt products the region could yield, according to a Feb. 28 corporate presentation.

It isn’t only the quality of the ore that is attracting investors. The same presentation highlighted Namibia’s stability, good infrastructure, and clear mining codes, all advantages that Namibia has over the world’s largest but unstable cobalt producer, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Namibia’s mining sector has already been praised as more favorable than the region’s mining giant, South Africa.

More explorations are already underway to determine how deep the cobalt reserves, once dismissed as a byproduct of copper and nickel, go. The Canadian mining company Namibia Rare Earths is now planning to re-analyze over 12,000 existing soil samples to check for cobalt, the company said in a statement (pdf) on March 5.

Namibia Rare Earths recently took over a slew of projects from Gecko Namibia with the intention of expanding its cobalt exploration in the region. Gecko Namibia, a local company, was the first to discover traces of cobalt in Kunene, and is also a partner in the Celsius venture.

Keen to get in on the rush to supply the rechargeable battery industry, the south of the country has also seen a renewed interest (pdf) in lithium mining. Historic maps are being re-examined to determine the extent of lithium deposits, while small but existing mining operations in the Tantalite Valley near the border with South Africa, are being reactivated.

All this is positive news for the Namibian economy. The Namibian government collects a 3% levy on the market price of base metals. As the world’s second largest diamond producer that is also rich in uranium, natural gas and most recently oil, mining contributes 25% to the country’s GDP.