Harnessing Natural Wealth for Sustainable Development: A Mauritania Case Study

Introduction:

Mauritania, often hailed as the jewel of West Africa, is on the threshold of an economic revolution, fueled by its vast natural resources and innovative approaches to sustainable development. This nation’s journey toward economic prosperity is underpinned by a diverse array of natural assets, from significant oil and gas fields unveiled by seismic surveys along the coastal basin over the past two decades to the thriving fisheries sector and monumental mining operations. Such developments not only position Mauritania as a magnet for foreign investment but also lay the groundwork for a sustainable economic model that integrates global market integration with environmental stewardship.

The initiation of pioneering projects, such as the phosphate processing plant and ambitious ventures into green hydrogen, signal Mauritania’s commitment to leveraging renewable resources for sustainable growth. These endeavors are emblematic of a broader shift towards sustainable development strategies that prioritize both economic advancement and environmental sustainability—a theme echoed in the literature on natural resource management and sustainable development (Mishra, 2010; Sawyer, 2006; Worm et al., 2006).

Mauritania’s approach to harnessing its natural wealth, particularly through the exploration of green hydrogen projects and the modernization of its mining and fisheries sectors, represents a microcosm of the larger global discourse on sustainable development. This discourse increasingly emphasizes the need for integrated strategies that address the economic, environmental, and social dimensions of development (Costanza et al., 1997; MEASR, 2006). As Mauritania endeavors to become a leading exporter of natural gas and green hydrogen, it is imperative to consider the long-term implications of such developments on the country’s ecosystem services and the broader environmental challenges facing our planet (Petit et al., 1999; Flannery, 2005).

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Mauritania’s Natural Wealth: A Foundation for Growth

This nation, rich in cultural heritage and natural bounty, is navigating toward a future defined by sustainable growth and global market integration, powered by a diverse array of natural wealth that includes minerals, fisheries, and burgeoning energy sectors (World Bank, 2024).

Over the past two decades, Mauritania has emerged as a focal point for significant oil and gas discoveries, notably through seismic surveys along its coastal basin. These explorations have unearthed reserves totaling approximately 65 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, encompassing the 15 trillion cubic feet at the Grand Tortue Ahmeyim (GTA) field, co-managed with Senegal, and an exclusive 50 trillion cubic feet in the Biralla field within Mauritanian territory. Such vast reserves not only underscore the country’s energy potential but also magnetize foreign investment, drawn by the promise of a stable and lucrative energy sector.

The fisheries sector, a traditional cornerstone of Mauritania’s economy, continues to thrive, producing around 400,000 tons of fish annually, primarily for export. This sector contributes between 3% and 10% to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), reflecting its pivotal role in food security and economic stability. Meanwhile, the mining sector, highlighted by projects such as the Tasiast gold mine and the National Industrial and Mining Company’s (SNIM) iron ore operations, positions Mauritania as a significant player in the African mineral export market. With SNIM targeting an expansion to 40 million tons of iron ore annually by 2030, Mauritania’s mining sector is set for transformative growth, leveraging its estimated reserves exceeding 15 billion tons.

The nascent green hydrogen sector represents Mauritania’s forward-looking approach to energy production, with ambitious projects poised to harness the country’s renewable resources. With plans for a green hydrogen production capacity reaching up to 60 GW, Mauritania is aligning with global sustainability goals, attracting international partnerships, and paving the way for a groundbreaking $34 billion project. This venture, in collaboration with Infinity Power Holding and Masdar, signifies a major stride toward redefining Mauritania’s role in the global energy transition.

The overarching narrative of Mauritania’s economic development is one of resilience, innovation, and strategic foresight. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the country has demonstrated remarkable adaptability, with projected GDP growth rates signaling a bright future. This growth is bolstered by international investments and development projects aimed at modernizing infrastructure and enhancing operational efficiency, setting the stage for an era of prosperity and sustainable development in Mauritania.

As Mauritania continues to leverage its natural wealth, the nation stands as a testament to the transformative power of strategic resource management. The integration of traditional sectors with innovative energy projects not only diversifies the economy but also positions Mauritania as a beacon of sustainable progress in West Africa and beyond.

The Tiris Uranium Project: A Paradigm of Sustainable Development

The Tiris Uranium Project emerges as a hallmark of sustainable development within the uranium mining sector, characterized by its economic robustness and commitment to environmental stewardship. The FEED study highlights the project’s significant economic viability, with a projected Net Present Value (NPV) of US$366 million and an Internal Rate of Return (IRR) of 34% post-tax, predicated on a uranium price of US$80/lb U3O8. This is bolstered by a strategically efficient capital cost of US$230 million that supports a long mine life, underpinning the project’s sustainability ethos (“FEED study confirms excellent economics for the Tiris Uranium Project,” 2024).

Operational efficiency is central to the Tiris Project, featuring low-cost, high-grade uranium production with an Average All-in Sustaining Cost (AISC) of US$34.5/lb U3O8. This operational model not only ensures economic viability but also minimizes environmental impact, aligning with global sustainable development goals (“Tiris Uranium Project FEED Study Summary,” 2024).

The comprehensive market analysis and sensitivity assessments within the FEED study affirm the project’s resilience against market fluctuations and its potential for future expansion. This reflects a strategic approach to resource management, emphasizing sustainable growth and operational scalability in response to market demands (“Tiris Uranium Project FEED Study Summary,” 2024).

In sum, the Tiris Uranium Project represents an integration of economic, environmental, and social sustainability principles, positioning it as a sustainable development paradigm in the mining industry. This project exemplifies strategic resource exploitation aimed at fostering long-term economic growth and environmental conservation.

Mauritania’s Leap Towards Sustainable Green Steel Production

Mauritania is on the cusp of an industrial transformation with its strategic move towards green steel production, capitalizing on its vast reserves of iron ore and emerging projects in natural gas and green hydrogen. This initiative marks a pivotal shift towards sustainability in the steel industry, a sector historically characterized by high carbon emissions. As outlined by Rechberger et al. (2020), transitioning to hydrogen-based direct reduction processes in steelmaking not only promises a significant reduction in CO2 emissions but also positions Mauritania at the forefront of sustainable industrial development on the African continent. Furthermore, the techno-economic analysis by Wang et al. (2021) highlights the global potential for regions rich in renewable resources and iron ore deposits to adopt green steel production, significantly lowering the environmental footprint of steel manufacturing.

Mauritania’s venture into green steel is bolstered by recent discoveries and initiatives that showcase the country’s readiness to harness its natural resources for a more sustainable economic growth path. With 65 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves unveiled and ambitious green hydrogen projects on the horizon, Mauritania is poised to leverage these assets for powering its steel production process. This transition is not merely an environmental imperative but a strategic economic opportunity to diversify Mauritania’s economy, enhance its competitive advantage in the global steel market, and contribute to global efforts in mitigating climate change.

The global steel market is witnessing a paradigm shift towards eco-responsible steel, with demand projected to rise sharply from 15 million metric tons in 2021 to over 200 million metric tons by 2030 (McKinsey & Company, 2022). In this context, Mauritania’s green steel initiative aligns with the increasing market demand for sustainably produced materials, offering a significant potential for economic diversification, job creation, and enhanced export opportunities. The country’s strategic initiatives and investments in green technologies signal a forward-looking approach to industrial development, aligning with global sustainability goals and positioning Mauritania as a leader in the green steel sector.

Conclusion

As Mauritania strides towards a future bright with possibilities, its journey illustrates the profound potential of harmonizing natural wealth with innovative sustainability efforts. This nation, blessed with abundant natural resources, is on the verge of redefining itself as a beacon of renewable energy and green technology in Africa. The Tiris Uranium Project and pioneering green energy initiatives reflect Mauritania’s dedication to a growth model that integrates economic goals with ecological responsibility. Yet, as these endeavors progress, the imperative is to ensure that this thrust for innovation also embraces inclusive development strategies. Mauritania’s story is an inspiring narrative within the global movement towards sustainable energy, showcasing how the riches of the land can be balanced with the aspirations for a sustainable future. In essence, Mauritania embodies the transformative impact of mindful resource management and stands as a symbol of enduring progress amidst the evolving dynamics of global energy landscapes.

References

Rechberger, Katharina, Andreas Spanlang, Amaia Sasiain Conde, Hermann Wolfmeir, and Christopher Harris. 2020. “Green Hydrogen-Based Direct Reduction for Low-Carbon Steelmaking.” Steel Research International 91(11): 2000110. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdfdirect/10.1002/srin.202000110.

Wang, Changlong, Stuart D.C. Walsh, Zhehan Weng, Andrew Feitz, and Marcus W. Haynes. 2021. “A Techno-Economic Analysis of Australian Green Steel Production from Hydrogen.” Preprint. EarthArXiv. https://eartharxiv.org/repository/object/3103/download/6268/.

McKinsey & Company. 2022. “The resilience of steel: Navigating the crossroads.” McKinsey & Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/metals-and-mining/our-insights/the-resilience-of-steel-navigating-the-crossroads.

“FEED study confirms excellent economics for the Tiris Uranium Project,” Aura Energy, February 28, 2024. https://www.investi.com.au/api/announcements/aee/fd924341-74f.pdf.

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brahimkhlil

  • Économiste et Consultant Indépendant en Gestion des Risques Financiers, MSc (Master 2 Recherche) - Université de Cergy-Pontoise, France.

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