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US steps up efforts to access Africa’s critical minerals

The US is stepping up efforts to boost ties with African nations rich in critical minerals to help secure supply, according to a government official.

Workshops recently held in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, and Kinshasa in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo brought in US experts with the ultimate goal of setting up local battery manufacturing operations, Kimberly Harrington, deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Energy Resources, said at a conference in Cape Town on Thursday.

“Critical minerals are incredibly important for the technologies that are going to drive the global clean energy transition,” she said late Wednesday. “My conversations here with the private sector and with partners in a variety of governments have really advanced those discussions.”

Last month, the US government approved $150 million of funding for a graphite-mining project in Mozambique.

The US International Development Finance Corp. financing was granted to Twigg Exploration and Mining Lda, which has a project in northeastern Mozambique, to mine and process the material that’s used in electric-vehicle batteries and nuclear reactors. Twigg is a unit of Melbourne, Australia-based Syrah Resources Ltd., the biggest graphite producer outside China.

The loan is aimed at increasing production and growing the global supply chain for graphite, the Minerals Security Partnership said in a statement Oct. 10. The MSP is a State Department initiative that aims to help funnel foreign investment and western expertise into the mining industries of developing nations that help supply key raw materials such as lithium, manganese and cobalt.

Another focus of the MSP is to connect companies “that have high ESG standards, that have the same type of labor rights,” in order to set up local processing and refining, she said. “We feel like US energy companies really pursue those values and we want to work with like-minded companies, even if they’re not American.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed a memorandum of understanding with Congo and Zambia in December to explore ways to support their plan to develop an electric-vehicle value chain together. The two Central African nations are major producers of copper and cobalt, key metals in electric vehicles and batteries.

(By Paul Burkhardt)

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