“We are looking to establish ourselves as the leading independent supplier of high-grade manganese for the electric vehicle market,” says Robin Birchall of Giyani Metals Corp (CVE:WDG), which has more than 8,100 square kilometres of potentially manganese-rich ground in Botswana under licence.
Manganese is a key ingredient in the cathodes of two of the most prominent current electric vehicle battery types: the nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) battery, and the lithium-manganese-oxide (LMO) battery.
At the moment, NMC battery is setting the industry standard and is likely to be at the forefront for at least five or ten years. Refinements and new technologies will no doubt be developed along the way, but the cost of capital employed will mean that once the investment has gone in, it will be at least ten years until the industry switches out again into a different battery cathode chemistry.
“Whichever way you look at it, manganese is going to stay and cobalt is going to stay,” says Birchall.
He’s a seasoned mining analyst and knows a thing or two about commodity cycles. Since taking on the job at Giyani in November 2017, he’s now learning about automobile industry cycles too.
A safe bet?
He’s candid about the pros and cons of manganese in batteries.
The disadvantages are that it doesn’t have a high-power density (or power per unit volume), and that it’s quite heavy. But the advantages are that it has a very good safety profile. Remember all those stories a few years ago about lithium batteries catching fire? Manganese is helping keep those stories to a minimum.
“The battery which currently optimises safety and kilogrammes is the NMC battery,” says Birchall.
And he’s got a pretty good idea of where such batteries will find their optimum use: in urban transport.
“Take a London bus,” he says. “How far does it drive? Maybe it makes eight journeys a day on a full charge. If you charge it at the end of each journey and then overnight, that’s ideal for manganese batteries.”
But if London is a hypothetical example, there’s a tangible one to be had too, from halfway round the world.
“There are now 375,000 electric buses in China,” says Birchall. “There are less than 5,000 in the whole of Europe.”
Not all applications are appropriate for manganese batteries. They probably wouldn’t suit heavy good vehicles. But on the other hand, they are ideal for the new generation of energy-storage systems being developed for home use. Since these batteries remain stationary, the weight of the manganese is less of an issue.
“The unit size can be relatively large,” says Birchall.
With all this in mind, Giyani plans to advance its three main prospects in Botswana as quickly as possible.
“We hope to have a resource out in mid-July,” says Birchall, “and at the same time we’re doing metallurgical work to help us find the right process to develop our ore into a battery grade material.
The results from that work will be out in July too.
After that a preliminary economic assessment will get underway in July or August, using a ballpark production rate of 110,000 tonnes per year.
While all that’s going on, negotiations with manganese traders for the sale of some direct shipping ore will continue. If those prove fruitful then Giyani will benefit from early cash flow and shareholders will be spared the distress of excessive dilution.
The Company’s leading prospect, K. Hill, has been mined before, and produced high value manganese oxide nodules. Preliminary results from the on-going drilling program at K.Hill have indicated that this deposit has still a lot of manganese left in it.
Manganese for batteries commands a premium of seven or eight times over product that’s used in steel, so high grades will allow for increased margin on an already attractively priced product.
Giyani is well on the way. The upcoming results will be closely watched.