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‘How Nigeria can leverage lithium, others for improved earnings, green energy ’

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As nations around the world transition to clean energy and electric vehicles, growing demand for Lithium and other minerals offers Nigeria a new opportunity to improve its non-oil earnings and embrace the energy of the future.

While oil is expected to remain relevant and even aid transition, earnings from lithium exploration, which is believed to be in commercial quantity in some parts of Nigeria can help the country address its revenue problems.

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Already, many development finance institutions are beginning to restrict funding for investments in fossil fuels, with many developing economies likely to suffer from the action.

Despite the opportunities, The Guardian gathered that the country lacks data and intensive exploration to harness its resources.

Experts are of the opinion that in the next two years, there is going to be a major scramble for lithium while calling for speedy actions to attract investors in the industry.

They expressed worry that there are no ongoing lithium-based projects in Nigeria, unlike some other African countries, a situation they considered detrimental to the economy.

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A Professor of Geology at the University of Ibadan, Gbenga Okunlola in research submitted to the World Bank recently, announced the discovery of over 3000 lithium pegmatite bodies across the country.

Meanwhile, preliminary results have shown that the grades of Nigerian Lithium bearing ores (Spodumene) are comparable with grades obtained in lithium producing mines across the world.

The Ministry of Mines and Steel Development through the office of the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency also told The Guardian that there have been several enquiries by investors for information and data.

Speaking with The Guardian, Professor Okunlola who is also the president of the Geological Society of Africa said, “We need to do more exploration as Nigeria has high potential. We have numerous pegmatite bodies that host potentially lithium-based minerals.

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“The lithium potential that we have in Nasarawa state is huge. Some parts of the South East called Akampa area, close to Calabar state and also some areas in the South West around Oke Ogun in Oyo State are blessed with this potential. But the volume needs to be quantified and exploration targeted to some of those areas.

“Mining world is about identifying projects, this means exploration to mine development and refining. We should now begin to focus on that in Nigeria. We need to start focusing on value chain development. There are lots of these future minerals and if we waste them with the way people are just doing exploration haphazardly the world will leave us behind.”

He called for a concerted programme in identifying strategic minerals in the country that could serve as minerals of the future.

“There is going to be a major scramble for lithium in the next two years, between now and 2050, it’s going to be one of the important minerals. China is already almost capturing everything in the world.

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“Of course, the other mineral of the future is Cobalt, which is highly abundant in Congo. The Democratic Republic of Congo supplies 77 per cent of the cobalt of the world. If they can get their politics right in that country it’s going to be one of the richest countries in the world. We need to look at some of these minerals in Nigeria”, he added.

Also, an Exploration Geologist, Agoro Abdulraheem corroborated that Lithium is key to the future of green technology and Nigeria stands a high chance of benefitting from the green technology revolution because it is an emerging technology.

He added that this year, the United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI) department endowed £318 million under the Faraday Battery Challenge. Similarly, the Advance Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) of the United States devoted much of its 2021 $47 million funding to these batteries.

Abdulraheem said private researchers and various research agencies such as Nigerian Geological Survey Agency (NGSA) have done some level of exploration but much still needs to be done to be at the research par with other leading countries.

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“All that is expected is to build an advisory council of experts from the multitudes of these scholars. Just like our coffee and cocoa, are being exported with no value addition; lithium minerals are also being exported raw. Localization of technology through government agencies like NOTAP should be on its way. Microprocessing centres to beneficiate and purify could be set-up.”

He identified the absence of a data repository and inaccessibility of data, Environmental implications, low investment for detailed exploration, poor information dissemination to the community of investors and insecurities hampering exploration as major challenges in the sector.

“Researchers need to know the current state of research on lithium chemistry to consolidate the current gains.”

To address these challenges, Abdulraheem urged the government to address issues around insecurities, ethics and environmental; create a workable blueprint for value addition and encourage local investors through Central Bank Nigeria interventions.

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He also urged re-alignment of current policies to allow local and foreign investors to invest, identify the means for technological transfer of skills and technology relevant to extraction, beneficiation and production and disseminate information to a wide spectrum of the potential audience.

Director-General, Nigerian Geological Survey Agency, Ministry of Mines and Steel Development (MMSD) Dr. Abdulrazaq Garba said the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development had been adopting a forward-thinking approach by developing strategic minerals of the future.

He added that as part of efforts to join the fourth industrial revolution, the MMSD commenced an ambitious exploration project through the NGSA tagged: National Integrated Mineral Exploration Projects (NIMEP).

“The project by its design is exploring five broad mineral commodities amongst which are minerals of the future of which Lithium is inclusive.”

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He added that Nigeria has not been able to figure out the volume of lithium in the country as exploration is carried out in stages.

“From the nature of lithium mineralization in Nigeria, which shows they are basically hosted within pegmatites and different from those associated with lithium brines. This by extension indicates that exploring such a mineralization style is a complex process and requires time, thus the process of ascertaining the resource potential of lithium in the country is still ongoing in some pockets of locations, however other occurrences have been reported in a number of places across the country.

“I have mentioned earlier on that the NIMEP project is investigating some occurrences across the country and drilling is almost completed on the Pegmatites in Ekiti State and due to commence in Kwara State. Drilling is ongoing in the pegmatites in parts of Nasarawa State.

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He explained further, “The NGSA carried out an assessment of the graphite occurrence in part of Kaduna and Bauchi States. Essentially what the Federal Government has been doing through MMSD and its Agencies is to rapidly generate a dataset that will attract investment into the sector and de-risk the sector for investment. The exploration project is part of the efforts of the government to make the sector more attractive to investors and thus contribute to the development and growth of the country’s nascent mining industry.

“Since the country doesn’t want to miss out from the emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution, that is why it is investing heavily in the exploration for low-carbon and green technology minerals like lithium and the rest, and given the results obtained so far from the exploration projects embarked on by the MMSD and its Agencies including the readiness of the Federal Government to diversify the economy through mining, Nigeria will surely not be left behind in the new push for low-carbon emission. The Government is also making efforts and encouraging the citizenry to embrace the change.”

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