Lithium From the D.R. Congo, A Considerable Contribution to the Energy Transition
Guest Post by: Issa Ludunge Jospin, Researcher Assistant at the Geothermal Research Center/DR Congo
The fight against climate change has remained a major concern for all of humanity in recent decades. The solutions to overcome one of the greatest natural crises that man could know lies in the competition of everyone. The scientists of the world agree that the energy transition would be the most palliative solution to reduce the problem and why not defeat it. Thus, the ideal would be to reduce or totally ban the use of fossil fuels which are the greatest sources of pollution and therefore of global warming; for this, the raw materials necessary for the development of electric batteries producing usable and clean energy are of capital importance for humanity.
Lithium, also called white gold, has become from day to day a reference metal for various companies working in the manufacture of tools that need energy accumulators for their operations.
As the world seeks to reduce atmospheric pollution due to greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the use of non-renewable energies, there is an extreme need to seek to promote the use of clean energies for the survival of humanity.
Indeed, lithium is one of the main components in the manufacture of rechargeable electric cells and batteries which have the advantage of being more efficient, having a high energy density and being much lighter compared to old lead-acid batteries and AGM batteries. The main advantages of Lithium-ion batteries can be summarized in a high specific energy as well as the absence of memory effect, the self-discharge is relatively low compared to other accumulators.
To this end, an increased international demand for this metal is multiplying, and its value is only increasing. According to AIE, the global demand for Lithium could be multiplied by 40 by 2040. Consumers, mainly automotive companies, mobile phone manufacturing companies, and battery manufacturing companies, all are still looking for this raw material to supply their factories.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRCongo), contrary to past years, when the country placed the exploitation of Lithium on a large scale in the background, it is from 2018 that the Congolese authorities have classified it among the strategic metals exploited in the country, at the same ranks as Cobalt, Coltan, and Germanium. The DRCongo having understood the key role that white gold could play in its national economy, as well as in the fight against global warming, today, does not only provide for its exploitation but also its transformation and its direct use in the local level, in order to provide the world not only with a finished product but also with products made from this material, among other things, so-called Lithium-ion electric batteries and, on a larger scale, the manufacture of electric cars made in DRCongo.
This country, which is nicknamed a geological scandal, alone has all the essential components for the manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles, batteries for wind turbines and for solar panels; such as cobalt (the first producer in the world), copper and lithium; all essential to the energy transition.
It is in this angle that the Democratic Republic of Congo began by creating a research and training center on electric batteries which was launched in April 2022, and has the mission of training technicians in the field of the manufacture of electric batteries, electric cars, as well as a mission of research and technological innovation. The University of Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been chosen to house the African Center of Excellence for Research and Innovation on Batteries; a center which is the result of a collaboration of university experts from Germany, Cameroon, South Africa, Zambia and those from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
After the mining exploration studies carried out by the companies AVZ Minerals (Australian) and La Cominiere (Congolese), they were able to highlight the proven reserves of approximately 44.6 million tons of lithium ore and 48.5 million tons of reserves probable in the provinces of Tanganyika and Haut-Lomami, in the south-east of the DR Congo, probably the most important unexploited resource in the world. This places the DR Congo in the ranks of the major producers in the world, which are Australia, Chile, Argentina, and China. According to Jeune Afrique, the future mine should have one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world, compared to a similar Lithium project, thanks to the energy of the Mpiana-Mwanga hydroelectric plant erected on the Luvua river in the territory of Manono. , province of Tanganyika, which should be used to facilitate work on mining sites.
The manufacture of electric batteries in the Center of Africa will play a very major role in the energy transition in this corner of the planet where most of the world’s biodiversity is located and which is subject to destruction due to the lack of energy.
However, shouldn’t prerequisites be needed to make such a big project effective in Africa for first and foremost local consumption?
Knowing that the use of electric cars or batteries, in general, require the presence of electric current for recharging needs, this is not yet a fully answered question on the continent where the majority of the population has no electricity.
That said, the electrification projects of Africa are to be encouraged and this is by the promotion of renewable energy development projects among other solar energy, wind energy, hydropower and geothermal energy, but also a collaboration between African States to make possible the development of the continental interconnected electricity network. Once this is achieved on a large scale, the use of batteries and electric cars in Africa can then be effective and this will have a positive impact on the climate and the protection of Africa’s forests.
Finally, companies and donors working for the supply of essential metals for the manufacture of electric batteries will be asked to put in place strategies and a clear policy allowing them to be sure to limit the most possible damage that could be caused by the extraction of its minerals and the management of recycling after the end of life of the metals.