Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|November 1, 2020|6 Minutes|In Billionaire, Billionaire Tomorrow

Billionaire Tomorrow

Will Fate Favour Fortune The Brave?

Who could be a billionaire tomorrow? One candidate is mine owner Fortune Mojapelo who is sitting right on top of supply in a battery metals market that is about to take off.

All too often, over the last century, Africa has missed the commodity boom with the real money made elsewhere from her minerals. Battery metals may mercifully be an exception thanks to the efforts of a quietly spoken entrepreneur, born-and-bred in Zimbabwe, making it in mining in South Africa.

You could argue that Fortune Mojapelo, the CEO of Bushveld Minerals, is sitting on top of a gold mine – metaphorically speaking – as well as a vanadium mine. Vanadium, used widely to strengthen steel, is also in the growing demand for everything from electric car batteries to energy storage batteries in factories and utilities.

“Energy storage demand is likely to grow more than 100 times, according to Bloomberg, in the next 20 years,” he says.

Mojapelo’s company already holds at least 3% of world demand, with plans to capture 10% over the next five years. His two plants: Vametco near Brits west of Johannesburg and Vanchem in Witbank in the country’s northwestern Mpumalanga province produce between 3,700 and 3,800 tonnes of vanadium a year with plans to ramp up to 8400 tonnes over the next five years. These operations are two of only four operating and processing vanadium plants in the world. Another is also South African-based, owned by Glencore; the fourth is in Brazil.

Yet most of the batteries made from African vanadium are made elsewhere. Bushveld Minerals exports 18% of its vanadium to China and around half goes to the United States.

Mojapelo, who studied actuarial science at the University of Cape Town, is a meticulous, quietly spoken, an entrepreneur who has very quietly examined the market and believes that batteries could be made in South Africa at the relatively low capital outlay. This could reap the rewards of so-called beneficiation – the holy grail of independent African nations, who want more from their resources.

“You need tens of millions of dollars, not hundreds, to set up a vanadium battery assembly plant. There is no reason why we can’t have a vanadium floor battery assembly plant here in five to ten years’ time,” says Mojapelo.

One way to raise capital for this is to convince lenders that there is a solid market in Africa. Already organisations like South Africa’s hard-pressed national power generator Eskom are indicating that. The national power generator recently put out a tender a 320 MW/hour storage battery to help support the flagging national grid. It is the first of many.

“For this alone, you could consume approximately 1,700 tonnes of vanadium- that is about 1.5 to 1.7 global production of vanadium,” he says.

The demand for vanadium batteries can only grow. Factories and mines are likely to turn to them as a way around power cuts. They can also be used to reduce power bills by storing electricity at night, when off-peak power is cheaper, for use in the day when peak hour tariffs are higher.

The batteries can also be used to store power for renewable energy sources, as the world tries to rid itself of carbon.

Solar, which can only create power when the sun shines, can feed power into battery storage.

“It is critical because Africa needs a lot of power; I saw stats the other day, Africa needs more generation 7,000 MW -a-year in the new generation. The question is where is that going to come from? It is not going to come from big power plants? Renewable is the best option to electrify the continent,” says Mojapelo.

“I think it is fair to say that there can be a lot of wealth creation in this battery value addition space.”

Mojapelo grew up dreaming big. When he was growing up in a township near the small town of Kwe Kwe in central Zimbabwe, in the country’s chrome belt, he used to go to school in a taxi. As the taxi passed the huge, imposing, chrome refineries by the roadside, Mojapelo would look through the window and dream of being in the mining industry.

Fast forward – more than 20 years later – Mojapelo is sitting right on top of one of mining’s future boom markets.

Surely, fate will favour Fortune the brave.

Energy storage demand is likely to  grow more than 100 times, according to Bloomberg, in the next 20 years.


- Fortune Mojapela

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