Home » Congo’s New Plant to Boost Global Germanium Supply 

Congo’s New Plant to Boost Global Germanium Supply 

The facility will process mining waste from a nearby tailings site using a patented technology developed by a Belgian company.

by Motoni Olodun
Congo’s new plant

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has inaugurated a new hydrometallurgical facility to produce 30% of the world’s germanium, a rare metal used in electronics and solar cells. According to its website, the plant, located in the country’s southeast, will process mining waste from a nearby tailings site known as Big Hill. Societe Congolaise runs the operation pour le Traitement du Terril de Lubumbashi (STL), a unit of state-owned miner Gecamines.

Germanium is a silvery-white metalloid with properties between metals and non-metals. It is mainly used as a semiconductor in thousands of electronic applications, such as fiber-optic communication, night-vision goggles, and space exploration. Most satellites are powered with germanium-based solar cells. Germanium is also used as a polymerization catalyst and an alloying agent in optical materials.

According to the Critical Raw Materials Alliance, China is the world’s largest producer of germanium, accounting for about 60% of the global output. The Asian nation restricted metal exports in August amid an escalation of a trade war on technology with the US and Europe. This has created a supply gap and increased the demand for alternative sources of germanium.

The DRC is one of the richest countries in untapped mineral wealth, with an estimated $24 trillion worth of mineral deposits, including the world’s largest coltan, cobalt, and lithium reserves. The country is already the world’s largest source of cobalt, a key metal for electric vehicles, and a top-three producer of copper. With its new STL operation, the DRC is also showing its ambitions of becoming a larger player in germanium.

President Felix Tshisekedi inaugurated the STL plant on Wednesday and praised the project as a milestone for the country’s industrial development and environmental protection. He said the plant will create jobs, generate revenue, and reduce pollution from mining waste. He also urged other mining companies to invest in similar initiatives to add value to the country’s natural resources.

The STL plant is expected to produce 300 tons of germanium annually, along with zinc oxide, copper, and cobalt. The plant will use a patented technology developed by Belgian company Metal Processing Technologies (MPT), which claims to be more efficient and environmentally friendly than conventional methods. The technology involves leaching metals from tailings using organic acids derived from sugar cane.

The DRC’s mining sector has faced many challenges recently, including security risks, political instability, regulatory uncertainty, and social unrest. However, the country’s mineral potential remains attractive for many investors willing to take risks and operate in complex or fragile environments. The STL plant exemplifies how innovation and collaboration can unlock new opportunities and create value for the country and its people.

Source: Mining Weekly


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