Africa’s mining investment outlook hinges on AI adoption

Dondo Mogajane is the CEO of Moti Group. Photo: Suppled

Dondo Mogajane is the CEO of Moti Group. Photo: Suppled

Published Feb 6, 2024


By Dondo Mogajane

Artificial intelligence (AI), the introduction of AI technologies, and their impact on the mining industry will be hot topics at the Investing in African Mining Indaba in Cape Town this week.

Major African mining companies are beginning to realise the immense potential of AI to disrupt entire industries by lowering operational costs, increasing efficiencies, mitigating risk, improving control and streamlining decision-making processes.

As a consequence, African mining companies that take advantage and power through growing pains will be able to realise competitive advantages and opportunities in the future. This is particularly as there is growing investor interest in companies that have AI as part of their business model.

African mining companies are taking the initiative

Several mining companies have taken up the mantle, introducing AI technology into their daily operations in some form, including the Moti Group and our subsidiary, Kilken Platinum.

Kilken Platinum is a 70% shareholder in the Kilken Imbani Joint Venture in partnership with Imbani Minerals, operating a platinum tailings retreatment plant near Thabazimbi in Limpopo.

With the first phase of a major expansion project nearing completion, the plant produces roughly 40kg of high-grade platinum group metals a month, while a forthcoming second expansion intends to double the figure.

During the initial expansion, we have sought to integrate an advanced AI system into the plant’s monitoring and operating practices. The technology will control and monitor industrial processes, such as tracking production metrics and ensuring that safety protocols are upheld, significantly boosting efficiencies and oversight at the plant.

Of particular interest is AI’s potential to analyse and draw accurate conclusions from large data sets, which would otherwise require an immense number of man-hours and huge amounts of funding to do. This can empower management’s decision-making abilities by, for example, predicting equipment failures, optimising production, improving quality control and reducing energy consumption.

Investors are paying close attention to how mining companies are leveraging AI to enhance production speed and output quality, improving profitability and long-term stability. Companies that incorporate the technologies early will gain a considerable advantage from improved processes versus competitors, with benefits for time, costs, quality and, ultimately, bottom lines.

Servicing demand for AI technology

Beyond incorporating AI within their operations, it is also vital for mining companies to consider how they can take advantage of the AI boom and play a role in meeting demand for AI technology as part of their growth strategies. For example, lithium plays a significant role in the development and advancement of AI technologies within the context of being a key component in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.

Demand for the batteries has rocketed with the proliferation of devices using AI, including smartphones, laptops and electric vehicles. The batteries provide a high-energy density and efficient rechargeability, making them essential for powering and meeting the energy requirements of AI-enabled devices.

With this in mind, Statista estimates that global demand for lithium carbonate will surpass one million metric tons for the first time in 2024, and more than treble within the next decade.

In response, the Moti Group is exploring, mining and beneficiating a 10 000-hectare site in Zimbabwe via another mining subsidiary, Pulserate Investments. The latest geological report by external consultants and specialists has valued the site at up to $1.4 billion (R26.4bn), which represents an enormous economic opportunity.

Results from a surface-sampling programme are positive in terms of the quality of the minerals present, and we have commenced mining of spodumene and lepidolite lithium ore in the area. In line with local beneficiation requirements, the Moti Group and Pulserate are acquiring an Approved Processing Plant (APP) that will produce a targeted 4 000 tons of lithium concentrate a month.

Having received the necessary regulatory approvals, we can export 120 000 tons of lithium-bearing ore, and 60 000 tons of lithium per annum. This translates into tens, if not hundreds, of jobs for breadwinners, millions of dollars for the Zimbabwean fiscus, and untold benefit for socio-economic development – all driven by demand for technology. This is a strong investment case for any mining business.

AI technology could expand Africa’s mining footprint

The strong financial case for judicious use of AI technology within mining companies themselves means that the companies who introduce it successfully will, likewise, have a strong case for investors and new clients. This, in turn, could aid in stimulating growth and seizing global market share, while generating higher tax revenue for local governments, injecting capital into countries through international trade and fuelling further job creation.

Additionally, the African mining sector can benefit from growing market demand for minerals such as lithium, cobalt, graphite, manganese and nickel as AI-empowered technology and devices become increasingly commonplace.

Ultimately, AI is quickly taking its place across industries worldwide, helping companies better regulate operations, eliminate inefficiencies, and attract investments. By leveraging the power of AI, the mining sector can fuel new waves of development across the continent, revitalising economies and creating a better future for all its people.

Dondo Mogajane is the CEO of Moti Group.