Chief Executive of Rwanda’s Mines, Petroleum and Gas board, Francis Gatare said as part of a push to attract investors seeking a conflict-free source of minerals, Rwanda will host the world’s first blockchain project to track tantalum from the pit-face to the refinery.
The project is a work of both Circulor and Power Resources Group. Circulor is a British start-up specialised in blockchain which partnered with Power Resources Group, a mining firm that has mining and refining operations in Rwanda and Macedonia.
Gatare said it was imperative for Rwanda to prove that it can provide a conflict free source of tantalum, a chemical element used in devices like mobile phones. He told Reuters that “blockchain is one of the technologies that has demonstrated capabilities of providing a more efficient and effective way of delivering traceability for commodities”.
Rwanda, which is still recovering from the genocide of 1994, is seeking to harness its mineral wealth to boost its economy. The country is also looking to get rid of allegations that its resources are being blended with smuggled minerals that can be used to fuel conflict in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Chief Executive of Power Resources Group, Ray Power noted that when he came to Rwanda in 2015, he had heard constant ‘criticisms on traceability’ for minerals. Mining companies, which are struggling to win the confidence of investors, are exploring the potential of blockchain to mitigate any dangers.
The technology behind cryptocurrency, bitcoin- a blockchain technology makes it hard for anyone to tamper with because it enables the creation of a shared database of transactions maintained by a network of computers on the internet.
In the mining sector, blockchain has been used by Anglo American unit De Beers to monitor diamonds to help guarantee they are free from conflict or child labor. Critics however note that tracking diamonds is relatively simple compared with creating the blockchain for an ore that has to be refined. For example the refining process of coltan, which produces tantalum or cobalt, opens the risk of clean batches of material being mixed with other batches.
Power said the Power Resources Group will strive to be the ‘agent of change’ by partnering with Circulor, a company which will use GPS tracking and facial recognition to prevent any corruption of the system. He said the tracking device will also compare the amount of each batch of material put into a refinery form sealed bags with the end product.
Power Resources Group’s clients include Kemet, one of the firms that supply tantalum capacitors to Apple to build its mobile phones.