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New Rail Route Boosts Africa’s Copper Trade

A US-backed railway corridor connects the Congo's copper mines to Angola's Atlantic coast

by Victor Adetimilehin

Africa’s copper industry is set to benefit from a new rail route that links the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Angola’s port of Lobito. The Lobito Atlantic Railway, a project supported by the US government, aims to provide a more efficient and lower-carbon way to transport copper, cobalt and other metals crucial for the energy transition.

First customers sign up

The Lobito Atlantic Railway consortium, comprising Trafigura, Mota-Engil and Vecturis, was awarded a 30-year concession in 2022 for the operation, management and maintenance of the rail line and the port. The upgraded line will have an annual export capacity of one million tonnes by 2030.

Trafigura and Kamoa-Kakula, a joint venture between Ivanhoe Mines and Zijin Mining, have signed long-term agreements to become the first commercial customers of the railway. Trafigura will have an allocation of up to 450,000 tonnes per year from 2025, while Kamoa-Kakula will transport between 120,000 and 240,000 tonnes per year of copper products from 2025, with an initial commitment of 10,000 tonnes in 2024.

The deals extend the initial trial shipments that began in August last year, when Ivanhoe sent the first batch of copper concentrate from its Kamoa-Kakula copper complex in the DRC to the port of Lobito using the new railway.

A game-changer for the Copperbelt

The Lobito Atlantic Railway offers a new import-export trade route between the African Copperbelt and Angola’s Atlantic coast, bypassing the congested and costly routes through South Africa and Tanzania. The railway also reduces the carbon footprint of copper transportation, as it uses electric locomotives powered by renewable energy sources.

The new rail route is expected to unlock more copper projects in the region, as it lowers the logistical costs and increases the amount of economically recoverable copper. According to Ivanhoe Mines’ founder and executive co-chairman, Robert Friedland, the Lobito Corridor will make a significant impact on discoveries made in the DRC, such as the recent high-grade and open-ended Kitoko copper discovery in the Western Foreland.

The US government has invested $250 million to revitalize the century-old rail line, which was damaged by decades of war and neglect. It has also funded a study to connect the railway into Zambia, as part of another project worth $1.6 billion. Moreover, the US initiative is seen as part of its strategy to challenge China’s dominance of critical raw materials and markets in Africa.

A boost for Angola’s economy

The Lobito Atlantic Railway is also expected to boost Angola’s economy, which has been hit hard by the decline in oil prices and the Covid-19 pandemic. The railway will create jobs, increase trade and diversify the country’s sources of income. Angola’s President João Lourenço has praised the project as a “historic milestone” that will enhance regional integration and cooperation.

The railway will operate on the basis of open commercial access, meaning that other customers can join Trafigura and Kamoa-Kakula in using the corridor. The consortium hopes to attract more miners, traders and investors to the Lobito Atlantic Railway, which it claims will become the leading rail transport link in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Lobito Atlantic Railway is not only a win-win for the copper industry and the countries involved, but also for the global transition to a greener and more sustainable future.

Source: Mining.com 

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