US-based mining start-up Kobold Metals has said it is considering partnerships to fast-track and develop a new copper mine in Zambia.

According to KoBold, the mine, which is expected to cost $2bn, was intended to be built within a decade, but company officials are now looking to bring that date forward to meet rising demand for critical minerals.

“We’re on track to do it fast and it’s going to be one of the highest grade, large copper mines,” said Josh Goldman, co-founder and president of KoBold, cited by Reuters. “We will make it quicker than ten years. We continue to move fast and that the pace that we’re moving at is with the accelerator firmly on the floor.”

The decision to move on with the project comes at a time when competition with China in the minerals sector has reached concerning levels. In 2019 alone, mineral exports from Africa to China reached $10bn in value, according to the Wilson Center.

Copper is an essential metal used in the production of electric motors and batteries. Western companies have been looking to gain a foothold in the mining sector, but US diplomatic apathy towards Africa has led to a power and economic vacuum that is being filled by Beijing.

However, competition for resources is increasingly leading to deforestation, habitat destruction, as well as soil erosion and degradation. According to the Mining Vulnerability Index, released by Investment Monitor in 2021, Zambia came second in terms of a mining downturn, with the country being the second-largest producer of copper in Africa after the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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KoBold is a start-up company that uses artificial intelligence to look for and unearth critical metals including copper, cobalt nickel and lithium.