The hidden treasures of Ethiopia: Platinum
By Andualem Sisay Gessesse – Located in Eastern Africa with centuries-old historical and archeological attractions, Ethiopia is one of the natural reach countries in Africa. The multiple agro-climatic and fertile land of the country, are also sources of some of the most consumed commercial goods such as, coffee and tea, among others.
But most of all the country’s treasures include oil, natural gas to gold, platinum and dozens of valuable metallic and non-metallic mineral resources. Unfortunately most of these resources are untapped, while even those which are being produced are still insignificant in terms of contributing to the overall agrarian economy of Ethiopia.
For instance the contribution of gold to the export income of Ethiopia was only 19% in 2012, when the country’s total export earnings was around $3 billion. For same period coffee remained the top export item with 26% share, according to the World Bank 2015 assessment.
Untapped platinum resource
Platinum is the key input for manufacturing of many electronic equipment including mobile phones. Ethiopia reportedly has different grades of the mineral in various locations.
The study made by Ethiopian Geological Survey (EGS), which is the government agency, shows that the country has platinum deposits in a number of favorable host rocks.
In the western part of the country a more than 150 km long belt host a variety of ultramafic intrusive deposits of stratiform, from which platinum can be mined.
In addition, platinum deposit is reported to be found at north–south-oriented lineaments at Sirba Abay outcrops, the far northern part of the western Ethiopia.
Occurrences of platinum group metals have also been reported in this belt by the private company known as the western Wellga Mineral Development plc in 2005, according to a brief report of EGS on the platinum potential of Ethiopia.
Platinum exploration in Ethiopia
Platinum group elements (PGE) have been found in the Yubdo ultramafic belt. Primary PGE were discovered in the Yubdo ultramafic rocks by mineralogical study of borehole samples drilled in 1969 by Duval Corporation, USA, and examines the sample in 2000, according to the study.
The Yubdo mafic-ultramafic intrusion is an Alaskan type intrusion mainly composed of hornblende pyroxenite, peridotite and dunite. It is elliptical in shape and has an exposed outcrop length of 9 km and a width of 4–5 km.
The primary PGE documented in the chromitites and serpentinised dunites have tetraferroplatinum (PtFe4), iso ferro- platinum (Pt3Fe) and tulameenite (Pt2FeCu) compositions.
Very high platinum values
The recent pitting exploration activities in the Yubdo ultramafic body by the Yubdo Platinum and Gold Development plc (YPGD) showed very high platinum values in the weathered saprolite sections covering the primary mineralized zones. Trenching activities by YPGD, following pitting results, showed platinum mineralized zones.
The samples from bore-holes, pits, trenches and rock-chips of Yubdo ultramafic body showed high values of platinum as well as gold, along shear zones. In addition the Yubdo ultramafic body is a very attractive target for primary precious metals exploration activities, according EGS’ study.
Meanwhile so far there are no official reports about the current production and export status of platinum in Ethiopia and the companies or artisan miners involved.
Though there have been talks about the production of precious metals and other valuable minerals, the official export income statement of the country shows that almost 100% of Ethiopia’s mineral export earnings comes from gold.