Opportunities are aplenty for exploration in Africa, both in known and unexplored parts of the continent.

This is according to leading exploration, mining and environmental consulting services, The MSA Group. GERARD PETER reports.

With the push towards getting more electric vehicles (EV) on the roads to reduce pollution, one would expect that it would be the battery metals market that will be most attractive to junior explorers in Africa.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 2, 2020

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However, according to MSA’s Senior Exploration Geologist, Luke Peters, exploration in this sector is still immature and reactive to relatively short term periods of increased demand or more commonly, to perceptions and forecasts of future demand or supply.

While battery metals exploration is expected to continue to increase in the future it is still gold and base metals that currently attracts the most exploration funding.

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Peters believes that EVs are here to stay and are riding the growing wave of global public opinion focused on environmental and climatic concerns.

“It is predicted that there will be around 100 million of these vehicles on the road by 2030. We are currently a far cry from that, but when the demand for EVs does increase and the supply is constrained, then we will see a renewed focus on exploration within the battery metals sector”.

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As the demand for battery metals increases there will also be more interest in exploring for substitutes and alternatives. “If you look at the EV market, the technology is changing all the time.

“For now, there is a demand for lithium and there will be for the foreseeable future. Going into the next 10 to 15 years, the rapidly changing battery technology may require different commodities which will create new opportunities for those junior explorers that are ready to act.”

Renewed interest in the Kalahari

According to Principal Consultant Mike Robertson, the appetite for exploration in Africa is driven by the demand for commodities, attractiveness of mining legislation and ease of doing business in a region.

“From an investment point of view, Botswana is right up there with Namibia not far behind. What we are seeing is that the Kalahari Copperbelt is attracting a lot of attention.

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“There has been intermittent exploration in that region from the 1960s onwards, however attention shifted to the Central African Copperbelt, largely because of higher grades and the fact that much of the Kalahari Copperbelt is under cover, which makes exploration difficult.”

However, Robertson points out that in the last few years, there has been increasing interest in the Kalahari Copperbelt and this has primarily been driven by the availability of high resolution aeromagnetic data.

This allows companies to see through the cover and get a good idea of the underlying geology of the area and to understand the mineral deposit model a lot better.

“In addition, the combination of techniques such as airborne electromagnetic surveys and ionic leach geochemistry further help us see through the cover.

“Application of these techniques has seen new projects coming on line, some of which are advanced, while others are still at a greenfield stage.”

West Africa garnering great interest

Meanwhile, Craig Blane Manager: Exploration Services adds that there is a lot of interest in West Africa, particularly from junior companies.

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“What’s interesting in this region is that where major companies are shutting down in areas known for their mining operations, juniors are picking up ground around these mining areas and have had significant success to date. This proves that not all previously operated mines are done and dusted.”

According to Peters, how much progress juniors make in Africa often depends on the jurisdictions in which they operate.

“If you look at West Africa, most countries have very investor-friendly mining legislation tailored for foreign investment. This makes it conducive for junior explorers to invest in the country and develop projects which, at the end of the day, will benefit the country.”

Robertson adds: “The MSA Group has worked extensively in West African countries over the past 10 to 15 years, primarily in the gold space but also including diamonds, iron ore and bauxite.

“Our most recent work includes projects in Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea.” He further adds that the best exploration opportunities likely exist in Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea because these countries are largely under-explored and are a current focus of attention.

“Our data show that over 250 Moz of gold has been discovered over the past 25 years with about 40 new mines starting up over that period, clearly indicating that there is plenty of potential in West Africa.”

Nigeria –  misunderstood and unexplored

Russell Johnson, MSA’s Senior Exploration geologist who is active in Nigeria, explains that today’s Nigeria is misunderstood and poorly represented by media which has resulted in its exploration potential largely being overlooked by Australian and Canadian Juniors.

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Well known for its offshore hydrocarbon wealth, Nigeria’s inland exploration sector has been largely stagnant in comparison to other West African Countries. 

However, this is likely to change as reforms over the past five years have created global interest in key mineral and metal exploration.

The interior mining activities are dominated by artisanal mining activities, leaving deeper deposits relatively underexplored or undiscovered.

Structurally complex, the interior has multiple interesting metamorphic belts and regional-scale shear zones that could potentially host mineralisation.

The base and critical metal prospectivity of Nigeria is particularly attractive within these features, with very large pegmatites being exploited by artisanal miners for gemstones, tantalum and more recently lithium.

There is no doubt that once junior and mid-tier mining companies begin to apply modern exploration methodologies and perform detailed geological studies in Nigeria, new discoveries will be made.

Regions bubbling under

Furthermore, according to Dave Dodd, HOD: Geology, there are less known regions that hold plenty of potential for junior explorers. One such example is Angola.

“The combination of all the new data that will be available imminently, combined with new legislation, makes it an attractive proposition.

“Angola is of interest to junior explorers focussed on copper hosted where the Lufillian arc extends from the DRC into Angola, there are also opportunities for diamonds on cratonic areas and where the Kunene Complex extends from Namibia into Angola there is also exciting nickel potential”.

Robertson adds that there is also a lot of focus on Sudan, Africa’s third largest gold producer.

“Most of that production comes from artisanal mining; it’s a large country that is very under-explored and with a government actively trying to attract investors through legislation amendments, this is another region that holds enormous potential,” he concludes.