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$2 Billion Copper Mine in the Lobito Corridor Could be the Largest "Discovery" in 100 Years in Zambia

Mingoba Deposit

In a strategic move to expedite the development of a groundbreaking copper mine in Zambia, California-based KoBold Metals, backed by influential figures like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, is contemplating partners to develop a copper mine in Zambia.

The mine is the Mingomba deposit with portions of the deposit containing copper grades of about 5%, with average grades of 3.6%, making it one of the densest copper mines in Africa, and placing it on par with Ivanhoe's Kakula deposit in the DRC. If the figures are true, the ore body would make Mingomba the highest grade copper discovery in Zambia in 100 years.

Calling it a discovery may not be the correct term since the deposit is well-known and was first discovered in 1979 by Anglo American. Anglo decided to sell the concession deeming it uneconomical based on copper prices at the time and other factors such as depth of the deposits and difficulty in moving the copper to port. In 2004, Australian miner Equinox Minerals bought the concession but also decided to pass on exploiting the deposit. In 2018, KoBold acquired the project and has breathed new life into the project giving hope to Zambians that the resource will finally be dug up.

While copper remains Zambia's biggest export, most output today comes from the mines in the North-Western province and not the Copperbelt region. This wasn't always the case and any move to increase production in this part of Zambia is a welcomed move for the highly indebted country battling to stave off further currency depreciation. President Hakainde Hichilema's goal is to triple Zambia's copper production to 3 million tonnes per year by 2032 and this won't be possible without more production from the Copperbelt. Copper production fell precipitously under the previous President of Zambia and hasn't recovered to previous highs in 2013.

copper production in zambia from 2002 to 2022

Mfikeyi Makayi, CEO of KoBold Metals Africa, disclosed that Mingomba mine development activities, including shaft sinking, may commence ahead of schedule around 2027. While the Zambian mine project could necessitate an estimated $2 billion investment, KoBold anticipates potential cost reductions through leveraging existing infrastructure from other operators in the region with which it has previously partnered or received investment.

"Mine development activities, including shaft sinking, may commence around 2027," says Mfikeyi Makayi, the CEO for KoBold Metals Africa.

KoBold is a Silicon Valley startup that claims to make use of artificial intelligence to identify minerals prime for exploitation with a focus on copper, cobalt, nickel, and lithium. It has raised a whopping $392 million across three rounds including a Series A of $20 million in 2018, a Series B of $172 million in 2022, and its last round was for $200 million in 2023.

Its financial backing comes largely from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a climate and technology fund with support from notable backers such as Richard Branson, Michael Bloomberg, Ray Dalio, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos. It was founded in 2016 by Bill Gates to secure access to critical minerals. It has reportedly raised over $2 billion across multiple funds and made around 100 investments in the renewable energy, energy storage, food and agriculture, recycling, and transportation sectors. BHP, Rio Tinto, Sumitomo, and Glencore have also invested.

The ore bodies at Mingomba are around 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) below the surface making drilling holes and mine shafts time-consuming and expensive. In the best case scenarios, it takes three months to construct one hole and it takes dozens of these to define one resource. KoBold has made progress in concluding some of this drilling and is why it is now seeking strategic and financial partners to take the mine development forward.

Historically, the Mingomba deposit has also suffered from higher costs of moving minerals from mine to port associated with all mines in the Copperbelt in Zambia. The rail upgrades currently occurring in the Lobito Corridor will eliminate this problem and by the time the Mingomba mine is producing at scale the railway connecting it to the Atlantic should be fully operational with all expansion and improvement works concluded.




Image by katsuma tanaka

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The Lobito Corridor Investment Promotion Authority ("LCIPA" or "the IPA") is a permanent multi-stakeholder engagement agency tasked to link all public and private entities interested in advancing and participating in the Lobito Corridor. Its main goals are to maximize and promote trade, investment, and economic integration among and between the three African nations of Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zambia. 

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