May 23, 2024

With the current demand for clean energy and green technology, it is time for the Philippines to realize its untapped potential when it comes to its critical minerals sector, a ranking State finance expert said.

Finance Usec. Karl Adriano said there are nine million hectares of land with high potential for mining minerals in the country, of which only 2.5 percent or 300,000 hectares are currently with mining tenements.

Adriano, during the signing of the memorandum of understanding for the United States-funded P260 million technical assistance program for the development of the country’s mi-nerals sector, said the current administration wants the mining sector to become a major driver of economic growth due to these potentials.

He said the opening of the Tampakan mine in South Cotabato will propel the country as one of the largest producers of copper when it opens in 2026 or 2027.

The Tampakan mine has been projected to produce 400 metric tons of copper every year for 17 years.

“We’re exporting around $1 billion of nickel and if we actually do some processing, we estimated that we could increase that value to around $15 to $20B so that’s 15 to 20 percent more,” Adriano said.

He said that is why the government is developing the whole value chain, from extraction to processing of these minerals, in partnership with foreign investors.

Mines and Geosciences Bureau Officer-in-Charge Danilo Uykieng said since the lifting of the mi-ning moratorium in 2021, the MGB has listed new applications for mining and most of these are geared towards nickel mining. 

The Caraga region, specifically in Zambales, has most of these nickel mining applications, due to the increase in demand for the mineral, which is being used in electric batteries and electric vehicles. 

“As far as green tech is concerned, nickel plays a big part of it. From nickel, you are going to derive cobalt and scandium, which are important minerals used in the electric vehicle,” he said. 

Currently there are 29 operating nickel mines in the country. 

The country’s biggest market for nickel is China, followed by Japan, then the rest of the countries including Australia, Singapore and others.

“Well, with our nickel deposits untapped, we could say that it will last for 50 to 100 years. We do want to take advantage of that, that’s why we want foreign investors to come in, especially on the value-adding, on the processing side,” Uykieng said.

The Philippines remains a significant contributor to nickel markets, producing an estimated 360,000 metric tons of contained nickel in 2022, equivalent to 11 percent of the global production, placing the country in a far second spot next to Indonesia.

Last year, the U.S. Trade and Development Industry Agency (USTDA) gave a P56 million grant to Eramen Minerals, Inc., a Filipino mining firm, to conduct a feasibility study that will evaluate the technical and economic viability to develop a nickel processing facility in Zambales. 

USTDA Indo-Pacific Region Manager Tanvi Madhusudanan said the program has a focus on environmentally sustainable practices and is currently undertaken by EMI together with a U.S. mining firm.

Chamber of Mines of the Philippines Executive Director Ronald Recidoro echoed Adriano, saying the mining sector is ready for these developments, as it has been improving itself during the years of mining moratorium.

Recidoro said the mining sector has improved its capacities, raised its performance on environmental and social governance aspects, and improved its environmental management handling through ISO 140001 and the MGB’s environmental scorecard.

“We have tremendous potential for copper, gold, and nickel but we need to harness it right, we need to make sure that the benefits flow not just to the investors, not just to the government, but also to communities that host mining projects,” Recidoro said. – Ofelia C. Empian