Rwanda’s mining boss announced the world’s first blockchain project to track tantalum from pit-face to refinery, part of a push to woo investors seeking a conflict-free source of minerals.
The project is the work of Circulor, a British start-up specialised in blockchain, and Power Resources Group (PRG), which has mining and refining operations in Rwanda and Macedonia.
Francis Gatare, chief executive of Rwanda’s Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board, said it was vital for Rwanda to prove it was a conflict-free source of tantalum, used among others in mobile phones as well as other minerals.
“Blockchain is a technology that demonstrated capabilities of providing a more efficient and effective way of delivering traceability for commodities,” Gatare told Reuters.
The Rwandan government is seeking to harness its mineral wealth to boost its economy, still recovering from the 1994 genocide, when an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in 100 days.
It is also seeking to fight off allegations its resources are blended with smuggled minerals used to fuel conflict in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ray Power, chief executive of Power Resources Group (PRG), said since he first came to Rwanda in 2015, he heard constant “criticisms on traceability” for minerals.
Mining companies, which increasingly struggle to win investor confidence as the pursuit of opportunities drives them into high-risk territory, are exploring blockchain potential to mitigate any dangers.
The technology behind cyptocurrency bitcoin, blockchain enables creation of a shared database of transactions maintained by a network of computers on the internet, making it hard to tamper with than separately held records.
In the mining sector to date, blockchain has been used by Anglo American unit De Beers to monitor diamonds to help to guarantee they are free from conflict or child labour.
Projects are also underway to track cobalt used in batteries.
Critics of blockchain say, like any other monitoring system, it is only as good as the data entered into it.
Tracking diamonds is relatively simple compared with creating a blockchain for an ore that has to be refined, such as coltan, which produces tantalum, or cobalt, because the refining process opens the risk of clean batches of material being mixed with others.
Power said PRG was determined to be “an agent of change”, with Circulor using GPS tracking and facial recognition to prevent corruption of the system. It also compares the amount of each batch of material put into a refinery from sealed bags with the end product.
Power Resources Group’s clients include Kemet, which produces tantalum capacitors for mobile phones. Kemet is listed by Apple as a supplier.