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Thursday, 12 January 2023

Saudi doubles down on its mining ambitions at Future Minerals Forum

Over in Riyadh, it’s mining, mining, mining: A host of announcements have come out of Saudi Arabia’s Future Minerals Forum, which kicked off in Riyadh on Tuesday and runs through today. Saudi mining company Ma’aden was in the spotlight, announcing multiple joint ventures to spur mining exploration both at home and abroad. Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman also outlined plans to set up a nuclear power industry for domestic use and export, touting the country’s diverse and abundant supplies of uranium.


Saudi Arabia aims to become a global hub for the “green metals” needed in the energy transition, bin Salman announced at the forum yesterday. This includes significant amounts of uranium and titanium discovered in the country, Arab News quoted bin Salman as saying. The demand for key minerals including copper, aluminum, zinc, nickel, lithium, and silicon is poised to surge, bin Salman later added.

An industry has been developing for a while: The kingdom says it has untapped metals and minerals — including copper, zinc, phosphate, and gold — collectively worth USD 1.3 tn, according to Bloomberg Asharq, and plans to attract some USD 32 bn in investment in its mining and mineral sector and award more than a dozen mining exploration licenses to international investors, Saudi Mining Minister Bandar Al Khorayef said in November. Lithium, nickel, and cobalt are essential to manufacture EV batteries. And phosphorus — the mineral found in phosphates — is essential for the growth of food.


Saudi’s Ma’aden is entering a JV with PIF to invest in mining assets overseas: Saudi Arabia’s mining company, Ma’aden, and the country’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), are forming a joint venture to invest in mining assets globally, they announced yesterday, according to a Saudi Press Agency (SPA) statement. Strategically, the JV aims “to initially invest in iron ore, copper, nickel, and lithium as a non-operating partner taking minority equity positions,” the SPA statement added.

By the numbers: Ma’aden will hold 51% of the company and PIF will own the remaining 49%. When the company needs additional financing, Ma’aden and PIF will commit to providing up to SAR 11.9 bn (USD 3.2 bn), with Ma’aden’s maximum investment in the company totaling SAR 6 bn (USD 1.6 bn), Ma’aden said in a disclosure to the Tadawul.

And it’s investing in US firm Ivanhoe Electric to develop mining projects at home: Ma’aden is also acquiring a minority 9.9% stake in US tech and mineral exploration company Ivanhoe Electric (IE) for USD 126 mn, according to a separate disclosure. Ma’aden and IE are also forming their own 50-50 JV to explore and develop mining projects in Saudi Arabia. This partnership will give Ma’aden access to proprietary technology that will enable it to detect minerals that contain copper, nickel, gold, and silver, the company said.

Ma’aden also signed other agreements for mining exploration: The Saudi mining company signed two JV agreements with Canada-headquartered Barrick Gold yesterday for prospective copper exploration projects in Saudi’s Um Al Damar and south Jabal Sayid regions, Barrick notes in a statement. The JVs will “open up potential synergies with the neighboring Jabal Sayid mine, an existing 50-50 JV between Barrick and Ma’aden,” Reuters notes.

And one for phosphate production: Finally, Ma’aden signed a SAR 1 bn (USD 278 mn) engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) management services contract with WorleyParsons Arabia and JESA International to construct the first phase of the Phosphate 3 project, which targets the production of some 1.5 mn tons per year of phosphate fertilizers, according to a Tadawul filing.


The “diverse portfolio” of uranium reportedly found during recent explorations can be used at every point of the nuclear fuel cycle, the National quotes bin Salman as saying. Plans include producing yellowcake (partially processed uranium) and low-enriched uranium, as well as manufacturing nuclear fuel. All would be for domestic use and export, he added. Saudi would be open to setting up JVs with partners, adhering to international standards of transparency, bin Salman said.

How much power are we talking about? The country is targeting 17 GW of nuclear capacity by 2040 and bringing online two reactors with a combined capacity of 3.2 GW within the coming decade, the National notes. Contracts for building these reactors will be awarded “very soon,” bin Salman said, according to Bloomberg Asharq.

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