Rio Tinto is making a strategic investment of US$27.5 million in Sovereign Metals Limited’s Kasiya Rutile-Graphite Project in Malawi. Through this investment, Rio Tinto will acquire a 15% stake in Sovereign, with the potential to increase it to 19.99% within a year. The collaboration aims to tap into significant supplies of low carbon footprint natural rutile and flake graphite, targeting the growing demand for these minerals in the lithium-ion battery market.
Sovereign’s Kasiya project, located in central Malawi, boasts the largest natural rutile deposit and one of the world’s largest flake graphite deposits. As part of the partnership, Rio Tinto will provide technical and marketing expertise to Sovereign, supporting their focus on supplying graphite for the lithium-ion battery market.
The project’s potential significance in critical mineral discoveries has been acknowledged by Sovereign’s Chairman, Ben Stoikovich. He believes that Rio Tinto’s experience and expertise will set Kasiya apart, potentially becoming a globally significant supplier of these critical minerals, contributing to supply chain decarbonization and achieving net-zero objectives.
A Pre-Feasibility Study (PFS) for Kasiya is already in advanced stages, building on the Environmental and Social Studies (ESS). The company has analyzed the global warming potential (GWP) of natural flake graphite production at the site, comparing it to other regions. The benchmarking study found that Kasiya’s GWP is significantly lower, with 0.2 tonnes CO2e per tonne of natural flake graphite concentrate produced, in contrast to Tanzania’s 0.6 tonnes CO2e and China’s Heilongjiang Province’s 1.2 tonnes CO2e. Notably, Chinese natural graphite production accounts for up to 80% of global supply.
The lower GWP at Kasiya is attributed to the soft material hosting the flake graphite, enabling mining with high-pressure water monitors primarily powered by renewables, such as on-site solar and hydro power from the grid. In comparison, production in Heilongjiang Province requires various energy-intensive processes, contributing to a higher carbon footprint.
Sovereign’s decision to demerge its standalone graphite projects into NGX Limited in March allows the company to focus on its flagship Kasiya Project and leverage Rio Tinto’s expertise to propel its growth in the battery minerals market.