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Saudi Arabia to begin mass exploration for critical minerals

The kingdom intends to produce 500,000 EVs per year by 2030. (Image source: Reuters)

Saudi state mining firm Maaden and US-based Ivanhoe Electric have agreed to explore 48,500 sq km of unexplored territories in the Arabian Shield for minerals

Surveys could begin as soon as September in the new joint venture, which is worth nearly US$130mn, according to AGBI. It is believed that the Saudi area has a high potential for essential minerals such as copper, nickel, gold, silver, and potentially lithium.

Saudi Arabia is very interested in lithium because it is a major component of EV batteries. The kingdom intends to build a substantial industry centred on electric vehicles and to produce 500,000 electric vehicles per year by 2030. European Lithium, an Australian firm, and Saudi Arabia's Obeikan Investment Group launched a joint venture last month to develop and manage a lithium hydroxide refinery in Saudi Arabia. 

BMW has also inked a long-term supply arrangement. The idea expands on an agreement struck in 2021 with EV Metals Groups to construct a battery chemistry complex in Al Madinah's Yanbu Industrial City.

While Saudi Arabia has enough mined copper to warrant smelting facilities, experts say the prospects for important mineral processing projects that rely on imported material are less solid.

According to Christopher Ecclestone, strategist and principal of Hallgarten & Company, Saudi Arabia may have the finances but not the competence to become a participant. “They need to put their money where their mouth is and quickly,” he told AGBI, referring to a fund set up by Ma’aden and the Public Investment Fund earlier this year to invest in mining assets overseas. The fund, which will start with US$50mn, may expand to more than US$3bn, the two sides announced in January this year. 

Mining is key to Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 ambition to diversify its economy away from fossil fuels. The kingdom's mineral riches is worth more than US$1.3 trillion. Eurasian Resources Group, based in Luxembourg, is investing an initial US$50mn in large-scale, early-stage exploration for battery transition minerals in the Ad Dawidimi area. The company's CEO Benedikt Sobotka told AGBI, “If we are to meet the increasing demand for secure, sustainable and responsible mining, we must first invest in territories that have been previously overlooked and under-explored – that’s why ERG made a significant investment into Saudi Arabia.”