At the last count, around 16% of the global bauxite production has been reported to have been produced by the African mining industry. The rich reserve of African bauxite mostly concentrated in Guinea, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Sierra Leone is, of late drawing considerable attention of the global alumina-aluminum industry.
Ghana reports the 3rd largest bauxite reserves in Africa. According to the latest production and export statistics from Ghana’s Chamber of Mines, Bauxite production rose to 295,993 tonnes during the first half of 2012, up from 173,601 tonnes produced in the comparative period in 2011. But, most of the bauxite has been exported and there has been no serious effort made towards adding value to the same locally. Ghana’s bauxite production is mainly operated by Ghana Bauxite Co at Awaso. Bosai Minerals Group of China acquired 80 per cent shares of the company in 2010 with government controlling the remaining 20 per cent. Bosai Minerals signed a MoU with Ghana government in the same year which enabled the Chinese mining firm to invest over 1.2billion dollars to establish a modern alumina refinery plant in Ghana. The alumina refinery, which is to be completed by 2014, is expected to initiate of a parallel aluminum industry in Ghana. The industry has a good chance of survival as Ghana has an efficient railway system that can ensure shipments of feedstock and production to and from other regions of the country. Ghana Chamber of Mines, however, feels that there is a serious need to reconstruct the Western Rail Lines as the bauxite transport is affected time and again due to the poor condition of the railway lines in the region.
Bauxite is abundant in commercially exploitable reserves in Nigeria spread around the states of Delta, Benue and Ekiti. In the past, Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON) used to mine bauxite and also had an alumina refinery. However, their operations have been suspended since 1999. Before that, ALSCON was producing over 4,000 metric tons of aluminium ingots per day. RUSAL took over the plant in 2007 and have been since working on reviving its overall operations. The plant has been processing raw materials supplied by RUSAL’s Friguia refinery (Guinea) with a present capacity of 120 thousand tonnes of aluminium. However, recently, Nigeria’s Supreme Court stripped RUSAL of its ownership of ALSCON claiming its 2007 bid as illegal. The future of the bauxite based industry in Nigeria thus remains a question mark.
Around 555mt of bauxite reserves have been since confirmed at Ngaoundal and Minim-Martap, in the Adamawa region in Cameroon. Cameroon Alumina Limited intends to set up a Greenfield project comprising of captive bauxite mining, a 3.0 million-tonnes-per-annum alumina refinery, and associated infrastructure. Cameroon Alumina Limited is a subsidiary of Hydromine Global Mineral (HGM), a joint venture company of Hindalco Industries Ltd, India, Dubai Aluminium Company (DUBAL), UAE, and Hydromine Inc, USA. The project, however, is running behind schedule due to pending final mining permit.
Sierra Leone, as on date produces around one percent of the total global Bauxite production. Bauxite deposits are mostly spread between its Moyamba and Mano regions. Sierra Leone slipped off the investment radar for most major mining companies during the nineties due to political unrest. It did regain some attention towards the beginning of 2000 but continuing civil disturbances are still creating hurdles in Sierra Leone achieving its full potential in developing a Bauxite mining and upstream alumina- aluminium industry.
Sierra Minerals owns the only bauxite mine in Sierra Leone and is the second largest mining employer in the country. The mine has about 31 million tonnes of bauxite reserve and it produces around 1.2 million tonnes per annum for export. Sierra Minerals has been a subsidiary of Vimetco, since July 2008. Vimetco began direct operation of its bauxite mines in Sierra Leone since December 2010. In the first nine months of 2010, Sierra Minerals produced 814,000 tonnes of bauxite, compared to 514,000 tonnes in the same period of 2009. Sales of bauxite were about 963,000 tonnes.
The global aluminium market continues to grow at a healthy rate with global production rising at about 3 % pa. Vast reserves of bauxite are already discovered in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Cameroon and the demand for bauxite will continue to rise due to robust growth in demand for alumina and aluminium China, India and the Middle East region. As per the International Aluminium Institute, African production of aluminium is on the rise and the major contributing factor has been the increasing rate in bauxite mining. Despite having rich bauxite reserve and optimum potential for overall growth, the aluminium industry in Africa is not developing the way it should have been. Among the many other sociopolitical reasons, a major one hindering the desired growth has been that many of the African governments are bound by long-term financial contracts and power deals they have with the aluminium companies. A number of systematic changes need to be implemented in trade contracts and government policies so that countries in the region can reap the full benefit of their bauxite reserves.