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Cu-Ni seen as battery metal winners

06 Feb 2018 12:47 GMT
Cu-Ni seen as battery metal winners

Cape Town, 6 February (Argus) — Global mining group Rio Tinto believes that nickel and copper will be big winners from the unfolding battery metals revolution that is being driven by electric vehicles and energy storage.

It is interested in the potential for nickel and copper development in Africa, Ken Tainton, Rio Tinto's exploration director, said at the Investing in African Mining Indaba conference in Cape Town.

"In relation to battery metals, copper is of enormous interest to Rio Tinto. Some of the destinations in Africa are challenging, but not insurmountable. Copper and nickel are very relevant in the battery metals space," he said.

Nickel is very challenging in Africa, he said, "but we would like to talk to people with nickel projects in Africa. High desirability, but low availability is how we see nickel in Africa," Tainton said.

Rio Tinto Ventures would be interested in looking at cobalt opportunities, not only in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but elsewhere on the African continent.

The success of electric vehicle and battery storage maker Tesla has woken up the world and forced all auto-makers to change their strategies, Willem Middelkoop, founder of Commodity Investment Fund said.

"We are only in the first phase of the battery revolution. There is no shortage of lithium. Copper and nickel will be the real big winners of this revolution," he said.

It is estimated that electric vehicles will use 27pc more copper than internal combustion engine vehicles.

Another panellist, David Twist, a partner at private equity firm AMED, agreed that copper and nickel would be the big winners. "Above all, we would like to find a good nickel project in which to invest," he said.

Although magnet rare earths such as neodymium and praseodymium have applications in electric vehicle batteries, rare earths in general are not expected to be in greater demand from growth in battery metals.

"A lot of investors lost so much money in the last rare earths cycle. I don't see rare earths benefitting anywhere near the same extent as copper, nickel and cobalt," Antony Milewski from Pala Investments said.

Apart from the shift towards electric vehicles, growing demand for energy storage applications – evidenced by Tesla's battery facility recently implemented in South Australia – will be a major demand driver for battery metals in 2018 and beyond, he said.