A look at ecological potential of Rwanda’s mining industry

Miners at Rulindo based mining site. Photo by Craish Bahizi

Rwanda is committed to becoming a green economy country and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 38 per cent by 2030. A green economy aims at reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities, and sustainable development without degrading the environment.

Following an agreement signed between Rwanda and the European Union (EU) Commission in February 2024 to help Rwanda contribute to the global green economy, The New Times looked at recent developments in the mining sector that could help the country contribute to a greener economy, both at the local and global level.

Supply of critical minerals

In February 2024, Rwanda and EU Commission signed an agreement to boost Rwanda’s mining sector, and help the country transition and contribute to a global greener economy.

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“The agreement will help unlock the full potential of the mining sector while contributing to the supply of critical minerals required to transition towards a greener and sustainable economy,” said the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Dr Vincent Biruta.

Critical minerals such as copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt, and rare earth elements are essential components in many of today’s rapidly growing clean energy technologies—from wind turbines, solar panels, battery production, and electricity networks to electric vehicles.

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According to UNECE, lithium demand is expected to surge by nearly 90 per cent in 20 years. Rare earth elements expect a 40 per cent increase in demand. Under the International Energy Agency (IEA) net-zero emissions scenario, demand for these critical materials will more than triple by 2030.

Rwanda’s prospects for lithium and rare earth elements

“Rwanda has rich natural resources, which can help bring prosperity to the local population and advance global green transition,” said European Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen.

Rwanda’s sustainable raw materials are vital for developing green technologies and delivering clean energy objectives, Innovation News Network reported.

Rwanda holds a significant position in the global tantalum extraction market. Alongside tantalum, Rwanda extracts tin, tungsten, gold, and niobium, with promising prospects for lithium and rare earth elements that are part of critical minerals.

Rwanda has reserves of 110,633,610 tonnes of rare earth minerals, lithium, beryllium, uranium, and iron ore.

ALSO READ: New joint venture to explore Lithium in Rwanda

Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner for Internal Market, added: “Rwanda is an important provider of tantalum, tin, tungsten, gold and niobium, and has potential for lithium and rare earth elements.

“With this mutually beneficial partnership, we aim to build a resilient and sustainable critical raw materials value chain covering extraction, refining, processing, recycling, and substitution.”

In November 2023, Rwanda launched a project dedicated to lithium exploration. It is expected to help determine the extent of the reserves and the potential for lithium mining in Rwamagana District.

With its newfound significance as a key component in batteries for electric vehicles, lithium has joined Rwanda’s diverse mineral portfolio traditionally including 3Ts, gold, gemstones, and rare earth elements.

Rwanda holds opportunities to establish other processing plants such as for tungsten, lithium, and gemstone cutting and polishing that are open to private investors.

Environmentally friendly practices in mining

According to information REMA shared with The New Times, it urges the mining sector to ensure proper tailings (residues) and waste rock management at the site, recycle used water and ensure the proper management of waste water from mineral processing that may result in pollution of water sources, soil, among others.

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The recommendations also include avoiding land degradation, and deforestation in mining sites, ensuring reforestation and afforestation whenever forests have been affected by mining activities, proper rehabilitation of mining sites, protecting and promoting worker’s health conditions as well as increasing occupational health and safety.

The other recommendations include access to technologies and processes to maximise productivity/minerals recovery and minimise the use of resources such as electricity and water and associated environmental impacts.

Strengthening environmental and social management, monitoring and enforcement throughout the mine life cycle, implementation of requirements of environmental and social impact assessment and environmental and social management plan, and establishing a plan for mining to go green are among the recommendations.

The EU Commission and Rwanda partnership also highlights the importance of research and innovation, as well as the sharing of knowledge and technologies related to sustainable exploration, extraction, refining, processing, valorisation, and recycling of critical and strategic raw materials.

It also emphasises the need for research into material substitution, waste management, and monitoring of supply risks.


Src: https://www.newtimes.co.rw/article/15036/news/environment/a-look-at-ecological-potential-of-rwandas-mining-industry


Michel Nkurunziza

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