London — Ukraine may advance this year in a program to e-auction exploration permits for critical minerals development, as more nations seek to secure supplies of metals including lithium, copper, cobalt and nickel, according to the country's State Geological Service.
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The idea is to attract investors to partnerships and collaborate with nations in the European Union and elsewhere as the move to build up supplies of strategic minerals gathers pace worldwide, said Roman Opimakh, head of Ukraine's State Geological Service, in a presentation posted on the Natural Resources Forum website.
Ukraine started promoting its critical minerals last year, when it received 50 proposals for developments via electronic auction. In Q1 the number of proposals jumped to 100.
So far only Slovakian and Turkish companies have participated in auctions, Opimakh said, noting that COVID-19 may have slowed down the program's success last year.
Sergiy Tsivach, executive director of UkraineInvest, the country's government investment promotion office, said that the mineral investment program could be expected to attract investments of $10 billion in development of around 24 major mineral locations.
Rodrik Cave, regional director, CRU International, commenting on the presentation, indicated that what appeared to be a relatively slow initial uptake on the Ukrainian mineral deposit offers could be due to some investors perceiving political risk in the country.
Clean energy technologies
Publication of the presentation coincides with a call from the International Energy Agency for governments to take immediate action to ensure they have reliable and sustainable supply sources of critical battery minerals essential for clean energy technologies, with demand for electric vehicles and renewable energy expected to increase sharply over the coming decades. In "The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions" report published last week, the IEA noted the global importance of minerals such as copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt and rare earth elements for the secure and rapid transformation of the global energy sector and meeting decarbonization targets.
Relations with EU
"Ukraine is a natural partner to the EU," Opimakh said in the presentation. "We have great untapped potential for building strategic and beneficial partnerships with EU".
Building on strong existing agreements in free trade and Ukraine's geographic proximity to the EU, the country's large reserves of critical raw materials could help the EU meet the climate targets enshrined in its EU Green Deal, according to the geologist. Development of the reserves will also help Ukraine reduce its dependence on imports of certain critical minerals, he noted.
The Ukrainian state has prepared an Investment Atlas with around 30 critical mineral assets, titanium, lithium, nickel, cobalt, chrome, tantalum, niobium, beryllium, zirconium, scandium, molybdenum, gold and graphite, according to Opimakh.
Among Europe's biggest lithium reserves
Ukraine has some of Europe's biggest lithium reserves but doesn't currently produce the light metal. Three projects are now set to being auctioned: Kruta Balka with lithium oxide content of 0.86%; Dobra with lithium oxide content of 1.38%; and and Shevchenkivske, with lithium oxide content of 1.1%, according to the presentation.
In titanium, used in aviation and shipbuilding, Ukraine already produces more than 6% of global ore supplies and holds among the world's top ten proven reserves. There are 27 discovery projects and seven proposals, one of which was sold in April for exploration for $1.8 million, involving licenses that would last for five years, Opimakh said.
Copper block sold
In nickel, cobalt, chromium, copper and molybdenum, five assets are being proposed, Opimakh said. One copper ore block was sold $700,000 two months ago for exploration; a graphite exploration license was sold in April to a Turkish company and there are various blocks of rare earth metals also to be auctioned, he said.
Ukraine has reserves of 3,000 mt of gold ore and five gold blocks are proposed to be auctioned for exploration and exploitation. One was recently bought at the end of last year in the Odessa region by a Turkish company.
"Ukraine has potential to become a significant gold producer," Opimakh said.
In April the Ukrainian government opened a virtual data room containing geological data.
"We like to compare it with eBay system – everything is online" Opimakh said, adding that typically the highest-price bidder will win the auction.
Exploration licenses are typically given for five years and then normally licenses will switch to development licenses of from three to 20 years depending on the type of mineral.
Tsivach noted that "soft" incentives are being offered by the state on mineral investments of Eur20 million ($24.34 million) and above made within a five-year period.
Up to 30% of the investment can qualify for fiscal, customs, land lease costs and other incentives, the UkraineInvest director said.