Umicore, STL strikes a deal to advance cooperation on germanium offtake and processing in the DRC

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STL, a subsidiary of La Générale des Carrières et des Mines (Gécamines) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Belgian company Umicore has inked a deal in a bid to advance cooperation on germanium offtake and processing in DRC.

According to the deal, Umicore will support STL to valorize Germanium from the Big Hill 2 tailings site in Lubumbashi, DRC while Umicore will optimize STL’s new processing facility at the site, using its refining and recycling expertise and in return will get exclusive access to the processed Germanium in order to produce material solutions for high-tech applications.

In this, it is poised to also support sustainable recycling and the circular economy, develop new technical skills and expertise in the DRC, and elevate Gecamines’ and the DRC’s role as an important player in the processing of critical minerals, as noted by the leadership of Umicore and Gecamines.

“Our Germanium recycling partnership between STL and Umicore will significantly benefit the local economy, the broader industry, and the environment. The collaboration will create new employment opportunities and enhance workers’ skills and regional economic growth. Additionally, this partnership will improve environmental conditions by optimizing resource utilization and supporting emission reductions across various industries. It will bring new capabilities that will help us enhance the output of our existing operations and establish a dependable source of Germanium that can be utilized for numerous applications,” said Grant Dempsey, General Manager at STL.

For many years now, STL has been mining Big Hill’s 14 million tons of metals-containing slags3 — accumulated from a century of mining activity — for Zinc, Silver, Cobalt, Copper and Germanium and selling these metals on the market. STL’s Germanium previously entered the market through third-party refiners outside of DRC.

STL is now seeking to further increase the value generated from DRC’s mining materials itself and inside the country by optimizing the valorization of Big Hill’s Germanium concentrates with the new hydro-metallurgical facility it commissioned in 2023. In this it will be supported by Umicore as its technology partner.

“Umicore’s agreement with STL fits perfectly with our circular business model and gives value to historical waste in the broadest sense. Optimizing the recycling of Germanium diversifies and secures supplies of this critical metal in a resilient supply chain. It will also contribute to developing the local economy and new skills,” said Mathias Miedreich, CEO of Umicore. “We are proud to contribute our proven and long-standing refining and recycling experience to this flagship project.”

The first test volumes of Germanium concentrates are expected to be refined by Umicore in the last quarter of 2024, with a subsequent ramp-up of STL’s Germanium extraction capacities.

Supply diversification

For Umicore the agreement will diversify its Germanium supply sources with a guaranteed, multi-annual offtake of substantial volumes. Umicore’s Electro-Optic Materials (EOM) Business Unit uses and recycles Germanium to create material solutions for optical and electronic applications. These include fiber optics, solar cells and electronics.

STL will benefit from Umicore’s expertise in non-ferrous metals refining and recycling to optimize the flowsheet of its new facility and ramp up capacity and ensure consistent Germanium outputs while adhering to the strictest ESG standards. In addition to the operational and technical support, Umicore will help in skill development to analyze the Germanium content in the tailings for recycling and support STL’s ambitions to further develop downstream Germanium products.

For Gécamines, the parent company of STL, this agreement constitutes an extremely important step in its new strategy.

New positioning

This long-term commitment embodies one of the aspects of its new positioning aimed at building a high added value mining industry in the Democratic Republic of Congo. From a relationship as a supplier of raw raw materials, STL – with the assistance of Umicore – has opted to integrate the value chain of refining critical metals.

Gécamines has therefore chosen to position STL as its subsidiary dedicated to the local processing of strategic minerals. Beyond Germanium, STL will invest in the production of gallium, cobalt, zinc present in the Lubumbashi Wasteland, but also in the future in Lithium, Tin, cadmium or coltan. on which Gécamines will reposition itself as the mining industrial arm of the State committed to the fight against illegal industrial exploitation in the DRC.

As a producer of raw metals, Gécamines has chosen to capitalize on the unique situation of the DRC on the chessboard of strategic raw materials and the production of value-added metals, truly creating jobs and wealth for the Congolese Nation. This partnership constitutes an additional step in this strategy, after the inauguration in STL on October 4, 2023 of its hydrometallurgical plant by His Excellency the President of the Republic, Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo.

Minerals Security Partnership welcomes the deal

The deal between Umicore and Gecamines has been welcomed by the United States, as Chair of the Minerals Security Partnership (MSP) and MSP partners.

The welcoming of the deal by the US and MSP partners is an indication that the collaboration among MSP partners and the private sector is a powerful demonstration of the MSP’s capacity to secure and diversify critical mineral supply chains, which bring economic benefits to local communities and source countries like the DRC.

This milestone agreement, forged through close collaboration with the 15 MSP partners, significantly increases the global supply of germanium, which is used in semiconductors, optical cables, solar cells, and more. The processed germanium will ultimately bolster supply chains to U.S., European, and Japanese markets.

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