The Congo Cobalt Ban is Back Off, Again

Word this week that the Democratic Republic of Congo is rethinking new export laws on minerals.

Earlier this year, the DRC said it would restrict exports of copper and cobalt concentrates. A move aimed at forcing miners to upgrade this material in-country.

The export ban had been scheduled to start this month. But reports are emerging that the government will put it off until December 31, 2013.

The delay comes as little surprise. Most observers doubted that the DRC government could actually carry out the ban. The country lacks the electricity and other infrastructure miners would need to build smelting facilities that meet the proposed upgrading specs.

This is undoubtedly true. It’s also a shame.

Africa suffers from a lack of on-continent processing facilities for metals. Not only does this mean lost revenue locally, it also makes mining less efficient.

When mining and processing facilities are closely aligned, many synergies result. Process circuits can be tailored to the intricacies of a particular ore. Making recoveries better, and profits higher.

This has been done in some parts of Africa. The Palabora copper mine in South Africa has some of the most unusual geology on Earth. And engineers came up with an equally complex processing circuit. One that did a great job of winning by-products like uranium, even at very low concentrations.

This should be happening more on the continent. Africa has a number of very unique deposits that would benefit from custom metallurgy.

Those where owners can swing the infrastructure could be value-enhanced quickly. It also takes a development group willing to spend some time and money on process R&D. A rare happening these days. But a potential money-maker. After all, it’s easier to re-engineer a known (but perhaps challenged) mega-deposit than it is to go out and find a new one.

Here’s to making it work where you can,

Dave Forest / @piercepoints / Facebook

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