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Uganda : Launch of a tin refinery in May 2024

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Uganda : Launch of a tin refinery in May 2024

Uganda, in collaboration with mining firm Woodcross Resources, is gearing up to inaugurate its inaugural tin refinery come May 2024. This endeavor forms a pivotal component of broader strategies aimed at bolstering revenue streams and augmenting value within the nation’s mining industry.

Background to mineral exploitation in Uganda

Uganda boasts abundant mineral wealth, yet its mining sector remains largely untapped. Despite gold being the primary resource exploited, the sector’s contribution to the economy remains nominal. This is largely attributed to the prevalence of artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM), which constitutes 90 % of mineral production.

By 2023, gold sector revenues are projected to soar to 2.3 billion USD, surpassing earnings from coffee, historically Uganda’s primary export. Notably, Uganda hosts several gold refineries, such as Africa Gold Refinery and China’s Wagagai Gold in the Busia district. While privately operated, these processing plants still yield profits for the state.

Under-exploited strategic ore reserves

Uganda is also home to significant reserves of crude oil, natural gas and strategic metals and minerals. Uganda’s mineral wealth extends beyond gold to include cobalt, copper, rare earths, graphite, and lithium-bearing pegmatite rocks, all deemed strategically vital. Of notable interest is the Makuutu project, spearheaded by Australian firm Ionic Rare Earths, showcasing substantial potential. This deposit boasts an estimated 315 million tonnes of resources, with a rare earth oxide content totaling 650 ppm.

Moreover, various districts are abundant in columbite, tantalite, limestone, and tin. In a bid to enhance value creation, the government recently granted Sunbird Resources a license for limestone extraction, primarily for cement production. President Yoweri Museveni is actively pursuing strategies to maximize profits from Uganda’s mining exports, with plans underway to establish additional refineries, particularly for oil and tin.

Genesis of the tin refinery project

Irene Bateebe, a high-ranking official within Uganda’s Ministry of Energy and Mining Development, disclosed the imminent launch of the nation’s inaugural tin refinery slated for May 2024. This groundbreaking initiative stems from a collaborative effort between the government and Woodcross Resources. As per the official website of the mining and ore trading company, the processing facility is set to boast an annual capacity exceeding 1,000 tonnes.

Woodcross Resources has a tin mining license covering 40 km² in the western region of the country. The aim is to achieve a purity of over 99 % in the refining process. To ensure a constant supply, the government recently banned the export of tin with a purity of less than 99.85 %. This represents a significant increase from the previous threshold of 67 % to 70 %.

Role of Woodcross Resources

Woodcross Resources is ambitiously positioning itself as the premier tin producer in East Africa, poised to significantly bolster Uganda’s economic trajectory. With requisite authorizations in hand, the company is primed to explore and develop critical mining resources and strategic metals.

Operating under two mining leases in southwestern Uganda, Woodcross Resources commands substantial territory. The first, Ntungamo or ML1466, spans over 40 km² with production rights secured until 2036. The second, ML1433, strategically situated across the Kagera River from Murongo in Tanzania’s Kagera region.

Firmly committed to adhering to LME standards, Woodcross Resources aims to refine tin with precision. Furthermore, the company places a premium on sustainable mining practices, prioritizing the well-being of local communities and safeguarding the environment. Through its refining process, Woodcross Resources not only optimizes the tin supply chain but also minimizes carbon emissions, underscoring its dedication to environmental stewardship.

Economic and environmental implications

Tin is of significant importance, particularly in an era of global energy transition. The metal is indispensable in industries such as automotive, construction and aerospace. This type of mineral is particularly important in the manufacture of electronic devices, thanks to its remarkable soldering properties. This makes it an attractive investment for Uganda’s refining industry.

Demand for tin is growing rapidly thanks to advances in green technology. For example, this material is used in the manufacture of solar panels and energy storage devices. Its resistance to corrosion makes it a preferred choice for coating steel cans. What’s more, its durability and recyclability help reduce the environmental impact associated with its extraction, thus promoting a circular and sustainable economy in Africa.

Tin market potential in Central Africa

The establishment of this tin refinery could have a considerable impact on the Ugandan economy, offering the possibility of exporting a product of superior purity. In addition, the plant could attract minerals from other Central African nations, such as Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a major potential market for this refining plant. By way of illustration, Alphamin Bisie Mining’s Congolese operations will account for over 4 % of global production by 2023. The DRC is one of the leading tin producers in Africa and the world. Its exports of this mineral amounted to :

  • 30,596.11 tonnes in 2021, with an estimated value of 412 million USD
  • 32,854 tonnes in 2022, valued at 429 million USD

The environmental impact has yet to be determined. Refining activities can have an impact on the environment, particularly in terms of water and air pollution. It is therefore crucial to implement environmental protection measures.

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