Billionaire-backed KoBold Metals to invest in Zambia copper mine

Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema looks on during an interview with Reuters in Cape Town, South Africa, May 9, 2022. REUTERS/Shelley Christians/File Photo

JOHANNESBURG, Dec 14 (Reuters) - California-based exploration firm KoBold Metals, which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify battery metal deposits, is investing $150 million to develop a copper mine in Zambia, the company announced at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C.

KoBold's investors include Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a climate and technology fund founded by Microsoft's Bill Gates and backed by Amazon's Jeff Bezos and Virgin's Richard Branson.

The Mingomba project, a win for Zambia's president who has set an ambitious copper production target, is a joint venture with Australian private equity firm EMR Capital and Zambia's state-backed miner ZCCM-IH (ZCCM.LZ), with the potential to become "one of the world's top-tier mines", KoBold said.

Mingomba contains 247 million tonnes of ore with an average grade of 3.64% copper, according to KoBold.

The deal comes as the United States is seeking to reduce its dependence on China by developing domestic electric vehicle battery manufacturing, and looks to Africa as an alternative source of battery metals.

Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema wants to boost the country's copper production to 3 million tonnes a year by 2032, from around 850,000 tonnes currently. As Africa's second-largest producer of copper, Zambia is highly dependent on mining.

"Our message to the world is that Zambia is here, and is open for business," Hichilema said as he announced the deal at the summit.

"This investment today is not about KoBold, it's not about ZCCM, it's not about Zambia, it's about all of these, and the rest of the world, as we grapple with climate change."

The deal, which will grant KoBold a majority stake in Mingomba, is set to close in the first quarter of 2023.

Reporting by Helen Reid; Editing by Josie Kao and David Evans

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