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Billionaire-backed KoBold Metals widens lithium hunt across four continents

House said KoBold was adding lithium to the suite of minerals it wants to mine following successes in exploring for nickel and copper in Quebec and Zambia.

In Africa, KoBold is also searching for lithium in Namibia and plans to start exploring for the mineral in the Democratic Republic of Congo – the world’s top cobalt supplier.

“Our plan is to develop the mines ourselves and ultimately in the next 10 to maybe 15 years from now, we want to be the largest supplier of critical metals,” House said.

KoBold was previously focused on searching for nickel and copper, and in Africa it is working on plans to build a mine in Zambia within the next 10 years.

The startup is backed by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a climate and technology fund whose other backers include Virgin Group’s Richard Branson and Bridgewater Associates’ Ray Dalio.

The company also searches for critical metals with BHP Group (BHP.AX) and Rio Tinto (RIO.L) at projects in Australia and Canada. It is stepping up exploration for the metals as the U.S. is increasingly looking for alternative sources of supply for critical metals.

KoBold wants to bridge the gap left by bigger mining companies that haven’t been investing so much in discovering new deposits, particularly for minerals key to helping the world’s transition from fossil fuels, House said.

Major miners have lately been focused on running operations leanly and returning cash to shareholders, and if they do invest it’s largely been expanding output at existing operations.

“With some exceptions, they basically don’t,” House said. “They’re really driven by maintaining their dividend yields and they are not growth-oriented. So we need to do it and the world needs these minerals.”

Reporting by Felix Njini

Editing by Mark Potter