Value added tantalum products manufacturing plants could cost USD 500 million
The Ministry of Public Enterprises will soon float an international tender inviting mining firms that would jointly develop a tantalum and lithium minerals and invest on value added products manufacturing plants.
The Ethiopian Minerals, Petroleum and Bio Fuel Corporation mines tantalum concentrate in the Oromia Regional state, Guji Zone, Seba Boru wereda, Kenticha locality 600 km south of Addis Ababa. The tantalum mine which was discovered by former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) geologists in the 1980s has been mined since 1994. The mine was owned by the Ethiopian Minerals Development Enterprise which was merged with the Ethiopian Minerals, Petroleum and Bio Fuel Corporation.
The enterprise has been only mining and exporting tantalum concentrate mainly to China. However, the tantalum concentrate consists of uranium and lithium minerals. Tantalum is used to make mobile phones and other electronic gadgets, aircraft parts and medical equipment. Lithium is used to manufacture batteries for mobile and aircraft. Recently, the demand for lithium minerals has been increasing as latest aircraft like Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 are fitted with lithium batteries.
Chief Executive Officer of the Ethiopian Minerals, Petroleum and Bio Fuel Corporation Mulugeta Seid told The Reporter that the corporation is seeking international mining firms that have the technological and financial capability that would jointly expand the tantalum mine and build two factories that would refine the tantalum and lithium minerals and produce value added products. “We have been producing and exporting the raw tantalum concentrate. But now we have decided to produce value added products that would fetch better foreign currency,” Mulugeta said.
Studies undertaken by the former Ethiopian Minerals Development Enterprise indicate that by refining the tantalum concentre tantalum wire, negate, powder and nobiumpentoxide could be produced and sold in the international market for better prices.
Mulugeta told The Reporter that the tantalum mine was recently re-evaluated and a huge amount of lithium mineral is confirmed to exist in the tantalum concentrate. “The demand for lithium mineral is increasing and more companies are approaching us to jointly develop the mine and build the value added products manufacturing plants.”
Mulugeta said lithium battery components and electronic chips could be produced from the refined tantalum and lithium products. According to him, the corporation is planning to build two value added products manufacturing plants in Shakisso town, not far from the tantalum mine. The total cost of the two manufacturing plants is estimated at 500 million dollars.
Mulugeta told The Reporter that a technical committee drawn from the Ethiopian Minerals, Petroleum and Bio Fuel Corporation, the Ministry of Mines, Petroleum and Natural Gas and the Ministry of Public Enterprises are preparing a technical document for the international bid. “It is the Ministry of Public Enterprises that will handle the bidding process. We are only providing technical assistance to the ministry.”
Previous efforts to partially privatise the tantalum mine and find a partner that would jointly invest in the planned value added products manufacturing plants were not successful due to unattractive offers made by the foreign mining firms. Mulugeta said recently more companies from the Middle East, Australia and China have shown a keen interest to partner with the corporation. “We hope that we are going to be successful this time,” he said.
Wondafrash Assefa, corporate communications director at the Ministry of Public Enterprises, confirmed that the ministry will soon put up a tender inviting international mining firms that would invest in the tantalum mine and planned value added products manufacturing plants in partnership with the Ethiopian Minerals, Petroleum and Bio Fuel Corporation. Wondafrash said that the ministry is preparing the bid documents. “There are a number of companies that are interested to jointly develop the planned investment projects. As far as the companies come up with proposals that would benefit the nation they could participate in the open international tender,” he said.
The tantalum concentrate produced at Kenticha consists of uranium particles. The uranium concentration in the tantalum ore is about 0.5 percent. Some European countries do not allow tantalum concentrate consisting of this much uranium to enter their countries. The planned plants would enable the corporation to separate and extract the uranium particles from the tantalum ore.
The mine started operation 25 years ago with an annual production capacity of 20 tons. Successive expansion projects boosted the production capacity to 200 tons. Replacement of the old tantalum ore processing plant is believed to further increase the production capacity to more than 300 tons.
By Kaleyesus Bekele