Junior miners are the pioneers of the future in developing new resources

Dr. Heinrich Jantzen, a seasoned Zutari mining consultant and former mining executive

Junior miners are playing an increasingly important role in producing the critical minerals needed for decarbonisation and the Just Energy Transition (JET), according to Dr. Eduard Vorster, Managing Director, Resources at leading consulting engineering and infrastructure advisory firm Zutari.

“These are really the pioneers that find new resources in, for instance, the critical raw mineral types in demand at present and that will be sought after in future,” says Dr. Vorster. These include Rare Earth Elements (REEs), a group of 17 elements. Neodymium, dysprosium, and praseodymium are particularly important for the production of powerful magnets used in wind turbines and electric vehicle motors.

While junior miners often have “exciting deposits”, they need deep skills in terms of business development. “We like to work at either end of the spectrum as the one represents the miners and assets of the future, while the other is established and serving our current needs.”

However, junior miners often face financial constraints. “They try to do things on a little bit of a shoestring,” says Dr. Vorster. “Where we as a company can assist them is to derive at a valuable proposition far quicker.” For example, this can include securing funding for the next stage, or utilising Zutari’s deep prior experience to arrive at cost-effective concepts much quicker.

“That is a slightly different outlook to someone building with their own money. We are able to perceive the wider value chain on behalf of junior miners, as we understand the licensing issues and the urgency for a ‘fit-for-purpose’ solution to kickstart a viable project.”

Dr. Vorster says that, apart from REEs, the JET is driving demand for minerals such as lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel, copper, and silver. “What is interesting is that the notion of what minerals and elements are deemed important to serve our new energy outlook is changing.” This is as the world transitions to electric vehicles and adopts largescale battery energy storage systems.

However, Dr. Vorster says junior miners have a realistic view of the ‘hype’ accompanying the perceived demand for these increasingly important minerals and elements. “One needs to be very careful not to get swept away and think that it will be easy to make business cases. Despite the fact that lithium is such a valuable commodity at present, the market is not yet fully developed to its full potential. We still need sound business decision-making.”

Zutari can assist junior miners to achieve their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals. “The whole discussion around ESG is interesting. We feel very passionate about ESG and the impact it allows us to have,” says Dr. Vorster. Junior miners often do not have ESG top of mind as they contend with rising input costs and electricity constraints. It means that, while critical, ESG compliance tends to be onerous for junior miners.

“What is clear is that the mining industry as a whole is acknowledging it has to go down the so-called ‘green’ route. Many feel it is a moral as well as a business imperative for a sustainable future,” says Dr. Vorster. He points out that Zutari can equip junior miners with critical skillsets they might not have in-house.

“It goes without saying that if you have the best people and apply the best skillsets available in the market, you will be successful. Successful mining companies in Africa understand that the way to get the best bang for your buck is to have the right people onboard from the outset. Do not invest simply because you feel you must. Make sure that you capitalise on change progress. These are valuable lessons for any business.”

Dr. Vorster represented Zutari at the Junior Mining Indaba held recently in Johannesburg. He was accompanied by Dr. Heinrich Jantzen, a seasoned Zutari mining consultant and former mining executive, and Daniel Chelopo, a qualified Project Management Professional (PMP), with over a decade’s experience in mineral processing and bulk materials handling projects.

Commenting on the successful outcome of the Junior Mining Indaba, Chelopo says it was gratifying to have CEOs from major mining companies using the opportunity to impart knowledge to Junior Miners. “It is testament to how the mining industry has embraced sustainability and the JET and what impact this is having on South Africa as a whole.”

Chelopo stressed that there has recently been an increasing emphasis on researching potential and problems associated with the transition to greener energy sources and decarbonisation activities. This huge initiative strives to address the critical problem of climate change and its negative environmental repercussions.

Exploring these potential difficulties is critical as countries worldwide attempt to minimise their dependence on fossil fuels and embrace sustainable alternatives. “The Junior Mining Ndaba gave us an excellent opportunity to find out about the voluntary carbon credit market, which enables businesses to offset their carbon footprint by investing in initiatives that decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Attending the event as a project manager allowed one to comprehend the complexities of the carbon credit market, discover potential for carbon offset projects in the mining industry, and hear about the latest market trends and regulations,” highlights Chelopo.

The event allowed project managers to obtain a thorough awareness of the legal and regulatory framework controlling geological exploration and mining activities. This information keeps them up to date current on developments, allows them to comprehend the ramifications of their own initiatives, and maintain compliance with the rules of the Geoscience Act. The Junior Mining Indaba also afforded attendees the opportunity to learn about the most recent breakthroughs in exploration methods, mining technology, and value chain optimisation.


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