Back in 2010, the European Union’s Ad-Hoc Working Group on Defining Critical Raw Materials published its first criticality analysis for raw materials. Its goal was fairly simple: to define the raw materials critical to the EU’s economy and from there “manage responses to raw materials issues at an EU level.”
The group ultimately concluded that of the 41 non-energy, non-agricultural materials it looked at, 14 qualified as critical raw materials. Those were: antimony, gallium, magnesium, tantalum, beryllium, germanium, niobium, tungsten,cobalt, graphite, platinum-group metals, fluorspar, indium and rare earths.
Of course, a lot can change in little time, especially in the resource space. That’s why the Ad-Hoc Working Group is committed to reviewing and updating its list of critical raw materials at least every three years. Accordingly, in 2013 it began work on a new report that was ultimately released last month.
For those involved in the tantalum space, the most important change is that tantalum, now deemed to have “a lower supply risk,” has been taken off the list. As the report explains, when the 2010 report was published, Australia, which has an “excellent governance rating,” was not producing tantalum due to low prices, with the result being that the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), whose governance rating is “poor,” was supplying much of the world’s tantalum.
As of 2013, Australia was still not producing tantalum; however, in the past few years Brazil has “emerged as an important tantalum supplier,” balancing out the risk associated with the DRC.
To find out which other countries are significant tantalum producers, Tantalum Investing News took a look at 2013 tantalum production figures from the US Geological Survey. Below is a list of those countries, along with a little background information on each nation.
Mine production: 150 MT
Rwanda’s 2013 tantalum production came to 150 MT, the same amount it put out in 2012. The African country has a reputation for being a top producer of the metal — in 2011, it accounted for 15 percent of world tantalum mine production, according to another USGS report.
Bloomberg reported last month that Rwanda has recently been promoting the fact that its tantalum is conflict free. That’s largely because companies registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have been preparing to disclose whether they are receiving tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold from the DRC, its neighbor.
Mine production: 140 MT
In the past, Tantalum Investing News has described Brazil as “the silent king of tantalum.” The moniker comes from the fact that despite being the world’s second-largest tantalum producer, the nation generally remains outside the media spotlight and away from “issues surrounding conflict minerals or mine closings and reopenings.”
Brazil is also one of only two countries whose tantalum reserves are listed by the USGS. They sit at 36,000 MT, behind Australia at 62,000 MT.
3. Democratic Republic of the Congo
Mine production: 110 MT
Mention the DRC and for many what comes to mind is conflict minerals. As mentioned, the US is trying to change that perception by forcing companies to disclose whether they’re receiving tantalum and other metals from that country.
While that’s a good idea in theory, skepticism is rife about whether disclosure will end up being useful. Most recently, concerns have been voiced about the fact that companies don’t have to reveal which of their products aren’t conflict free. Tom Quaadman, vice president of the US Chamber of Commerce, is quoted as saying in a Wall Street Journal article, “[w]hen I did math in school I had to do the work and show the answer. What has happened now is companies have to show their work and not their answer.”
Mine production: 60 MT
Nigeria has produced tantalum for decades, and though the USGS doesn’t list its reserves of the metal, they are believed to be substantial. Interestingly, however, it’s artisanal miners that give them the most attention.
A recent editorial in Nigerian publication Punch reveals that it’s not just tantalum that’s neglected in the country — in fact, mining contributes only 0.3 percent of its GDP. “We need to amend the 1999 Constitution to allow states to control their own minerals and reduce the destructive dependence on oil,” the publication states.
Mine production: 50 MT
Canada is not a tantalum powerhouse like Rwanda and Brazil are, but that could change within the next few years, Chris Grove, director of Commerce Resources (TSXV:CCE), told Tantalum Investing News last year.
He explained that all of the deposits in Brazil, a top tantalum producer, are carbonatites. There is also high carbonatite activity in British Columbia and Quebec, and it potentially represents hundreds of years of supply.
Mine production: 40 MT
Mozambique’s Alto Ligonha pegmatite belt hosts historic tantalum mines. One of them, Marropino, was recently closed, according to allAfrica. Another, called Muiane, is owned by Pacific Wildcat Resources (TSXV:PAW). The company notes on its website that it is “currently working on a potential financing option to allow the addition of a spiral circuit at Muiane to allow operations to recommence.”
Mine production: 30 MT
Tantalum is mined in Burundi by privately owned Comptoir Minier des Exploitations du Burundi (COMEBU), a 2011 USGS report on the country states. It operates at Kabarore in Kayanza Province, while artisanal miners work “at various sites in Kayanza, Kirundo, and Ngozi Provinces.”
Exploration completed by COMEBU about a decade ago places Kabarore’s niobium-tantalite reserves at an estimated 4,400 MT.
Mine production: 10 MT
While tantalum mining has been profitable for Ethiopia in the past, production and export of the metal was suspended in June 2012 until such time as the country has set up its own refining plant.
The reason, Metal Bulletin explains, is that the uranium content of its raw tantalum “has increased to such high levels that it has become impossible to ship it in raw form.” A plant would remove that risk and also allow the country to derive greater value from the metal, but a 2013 USGS reportindicates that no refinery has yet been built.