Business Maverick

INTERVIEW

Sibanye CEO says the burning planet is driving company’s green metals drive

Sibanye CEO says the burning planet is driving company’s green metals drive
Neal Froneman, chief executive of Sibanye-Stillwater. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

As temperatures outside soared, Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman told Business Maverick in an interview on the sidelines of the Joburg Mining Indaba that climate change was driving its expansion into green metals. And, with a possible global recession looming, he sees opportunities to scoop up more assets in that space.

Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman, like most mining executives, is often directed by science. You don’t find metals with a divining rod. And with Johannesburg baking in October, he said climate change was the key driver of Sibanye’s current investment strategy of taking a deep dive into the battery metals seen as crucial to the green transition from fossil fuels. 

“There is so much evidence of intense and changing weather patterns across the world. Just look at the UK a few weeks ago, heat wave. Look at Europe, the Rhine River getting too low to transport material,” Froneman said in an interview on the sidelines of the Joburg Mining Indaba, organised by Resources For Africa.

Held at the Inanda Club, the polo ground outside was fading from green to reddish dirt as it shrivelled under the unrelenting sun and dust swirled from the stables.

Froneman also noted the flooding around the company’s Stillwater platinum group metals (PGM) operation in Montana earlier this year which disrupted production there for seven weeks.

“That was a one-in-500-year climate event,” Froneman said. “Climate change is real and we can’t risk not doing anything about global warming. This is where our vision, our purpose comes in terms of providing green metals to support the reversal of climate change.”

Policy is also driving change as governments around the world legislate and regulate to curb emissions, boosting demand for the metals needed to make such goals a reality.

Among other moves on this front, Sibanye recently completed a series of transactions to secure an 87% stake in Keliber Oy, a Finnish lithium project. Keliber aims to be the first fully integrated lithium producer in Europe, supplying about 15,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide monohydrate per annum into the European battery industry.

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On the expansion into green metals, Froneman said: “… we have not stopped and PGMs are part of the solution, they are green metals in their own right. What we are doing now is expanding the portfolio to include battery metals. With PGMs, we have a very solid base, we can look out 50 years on our production profile.”

Froneman said that Sibanye sees more green metals acquisitions in the pipeline. 

“We believe the recession will create opportunities,” he said, referring to growing concerns that a confluence of events including rapidly rising interest rates worldwide to contain inflation was tipping the global economy into recession. 

“We believe next year we will be in a fairly deep recession and we’ve kept our balance sheet strong with a view to being able to take advantage of that situation,” he said.

By that, Froneman meant that asset prices should become cheaper because of the sour global economy, providing an opportunity for a company with the means to snap some up. At the end of June this year the company had more than R27-billion in cash on hand.

In the space of the decade since Sibanye began life as a Gold Fields’ spin-off mining the latter’s deep-level and labour-intensive gold mines in South Africa, a lot has changed.

Climate change was high on the agenda then, but green metals were seldom spoken of and ESGs — environmental, social and governance concerns — were just starting to take root in global corporate discourse. They have since grown into almost an industry in their own right as our burning planet sizzles.

Climate change is now a key driver of mergers and acquisitions activity. Expect to see a lot more and not just from Sibanye, because the race is on in a new and frantic resource scramble. DM/BM

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