The Role Of Critical Minerals In Paving The Way Towards A Greener And Economically Sustainable Future

In the quest for a sustainable future, our journey is intertwined with the pursuit of critical minerals. Picture yourself in a world where clean energy powers our homes, where electric vehicles silently navigate down the streets, and where renewable technologies flourish. This is not a mere dream, but a tangible reality that some countries are beginning to recognise, and where others intend to be. The relevance of critical minerals in the green and sustainable economy cannot be overstated. They serve as the building blocks of renewable technologies, acting as catalysts for innovation and sustainability.

The composition of this essential list varies from nation to nation, mirroring their unique priorities, strategies, and needs. In South Africa, the Department of Minerals and Energy (DMRE) emerges as a focal point for listing these critical minerals. However, the compilation of such a list in South Africa remains a work in progress.  The table gives a general summary of these minerals and the role they play in the green economy.

Mineral% of Global ReservesUses
Cobalt72%Used in batteries for electric vehicles
PGMs80%Catalysts in hydrogen fuel cells and electrolysers
Nickel9%Utilised in the production of Li-ion batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage
Manganese80%Widely used in solar and wind farm construction
Vanadium30%Used in battery energy storage solutions
REE-Used in Energy-efficient lighting solutions and wind turbine generators
Lithium-Li-ion batteries used in electrical vehicles and energy storage
Zinc11%Zinc is used as a coating to protect solar panels and wind turbines from rusts and other elements
Graphite-Used in Li-ion batteries for electrical vehicles and energy storage

Source:  The Minerals Council of South Africa

The omission of the global share of reserves for some minerals listed on the table above is not intentional, but rather indicative of the lack of verified statistics and information due to limited exploration of those minerals. Highlighting a concerning statistic, the Minerals Council underscores that South Africa's share of global exploration activity for critical minerals stands below 1%. This emphasizes the urgent need for increased investment and focus on exploration efforts. By encouraging exploration activities, South Africa can secure access to critical mineral resources and catalyse downstream industries such as manufacturing.

Leveraging these resources domestically can drive local value addition and significantly contribute to the country's economic growth and competitiveness in the global market. In a country characterized by a high unemployment rate, recognising the value chain perspective is crucial, particularly in understanding the economic opportunities presented at each stage, from exploration through to processing and manufacturing.

This aligns well with South Africa's Mineral Beneficiation strategy, which aims to enhance value addition in downstream industries. By embracing this strategy, South Africa not only mitigates the risk of merely exporting raw materials but also positions itself to participate actively in processing and manufacturing green technologies and solutions.

Similarly, local adoption of these technologies is vital for advancing the country's efforts to meet its carbon emission targets. This also cultivates a domestic market for embracing such technologies, thereby spurring investment in localising supply chains. South Africa has developed several roadmaps, including the PGM roadmap, the new vehicle roadmap, and the Green Hydrogen roadmap, all of which contribute to the growth of the green economy and outline various steps, strategies and instruments aimed at realising the green economy.

The OR Tambo Special Economic Zone (SEZ) fosters an environment conducive to industries aiming to produce goods meeting international standards. From both incentivization and infrastructure standpoints, the OR Tambo SEZ notably supports the manufacturing of green technologies, encompassing a spectrum from electronics in the renewable space to fuel cells and electrolysers, alongside other components crucial to the green economy.

Moreover, the OR Tambo Special Economic Zone (SEZ) stands out for its strategic advantage in addressing the critical skills gap within the industry. Situated in close proximity to leading academic institutions renowned for their expertise in training students specifically for these sectors, the SEZ offers access to a skilled workforce. Additionally, its access to research institutions actively involved in driving advancements in green technology manufacturing ensures a dynamic ecosystem conducive to fostering innovation and expertise. This strategic positioning underscores the SEZ's commitment to facilitating the growth and success of industries producing goods of international standards.

While the journey may appear extended, it remains within reach, guided by the concerted efforts of diverse stakeholders committed to a greener and sustainable future. For more information on opportunities available in the green economy sector visit