Nigel Ferguson,
Managing Director,
AVZ Minerals
"A reliable source of power remains challenging in the DRC, therefore, AVZ’s goal is to rely on the use of renewable energy through hydropower at Mpiana Mwanga."

Can you give us an update regarding the state of the Manono feasibility study?

The feasibility study for the Manono lithium and tin project was published in April 2020, and demonstrates that the project’s deposit is unlike any other. AVZ is currently in advanced discussions with several entities in Australia, Europe, the Middle East and South Africa to secure approximately US$550 million that is required to commence production. Financing of the Manono project will involve a mixture of equity and debt. Once a Final Investment Decision is made, construction of the mine will begin and last for approximately 24 months, with production then ramping up to full capacity. AVZ is currently in advanced discussions with multiple offtake partners for significant volumes of spodumene concentrate and tin. In September 2020, AVZ moved to increase its equity stake in the Manono project to 75% when it acquired an additional 10% of Dathomir Mining’s shareholding in the project. AVZ will now fund all operational expenses of the Manono project.

How is AVZ investing in infrastructure in the DRC?

AVZ is currently refurbishing the road to Manono and, more importantly, will be refurbishing the road from Manono to Kabondo Dianda (the rail head) in what it hopes will be an operational private-public partnership. The road to Kabondo Dianda is an essential link to access the railway line, allowing transport of minerals from Manono to Lobito port in Angola and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. In addition to road refurbishments, AVZ will also contribute to investing in power infrastructure. A reliable source of power remains challenging in the DRC, therefore, AVZ’s goal is to rely on the use of renewable energy through hydropower at Mpiana Mwanga. Any excess power that is generated will be fed back into the national grid for local use. The hydropower plant will be refurbished in two stages, with power from the first stage being used for SC6 and PLS production while power from the second stage will provide expansion capability.

AVZ aims to operate the Manono project on clean energy sources as much as possible. The mining operations, electric vehicles on site and campsite are to run on hydropower and solar alternatives. The calcining process is the only operation that cannot rely on hydropower and will use diesel generators. AVZ is also exploring carbon capture and storage techniques to further reduce its carbon footprint.

What community engagement programs does AVZ have in place in the DRC?

The new Mining Code introduced a social tax of 0.3% to be contributed to the development of those communities affected by the mine’s activities. The “AVZ Foundation” was recently incorporated to address the communities’ needs in collaboration with international NGOs such as the Red Cross. The AVZ Foundation will allow the company to address its commitment to the local communities through training, health and education programs. AVZ is 100% committed to improving the lives of all stakeholders of the Manono project.

To what extent do artisanal mining activities impact your operations?

Artisanal miners are mining alluvial metals nearby. We plan to engage with them and allocate certain areas for them to work, selected by AVZ and the government. Alternatively, it has been proposed that we turn them into a group of mining cooperatives to assist AVZ from the alluvial side of the project. If progressed this will be completed based on strict safety measures, ensuring no children participate in the mining operations.

The new Mining Code passed two years ago still remains controversial. What is your perception on its effect on the DRC as a mining destination?

The mining code is problematic due to the immense number of taxes it imposes. The over-taxation of the industry diverts investment from the country, especially the super tax on critical minerals. Lithium is an industrial commodity, priced similarly to cement, so it must be taxed accordingly. AVZ intends to have future discussions with both the Mines Minister and the President to voice our opinion regarding reforms that will be beneficial to both the State and investors.

Do you have a final message to our international readership?

The DRC is often perceived to be a risky environment to operate in, however, this should not deter investment as it is a country where the ROI is far higher than the risk, making it a unique investment opportunity. Investors must be made aware of the world-class mining investment opportunities that exist in the DRC that go well beyond copper and cobalt, such as its exceptional gold reserves in the north.