The industrial sector is one of the pillars of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 to diversify the economy, alongside mining and minerals processing and other sectors. The mining sector is also a crucial part of the National Industrial Strategy because, without critical minerals from the mining sector, the goals of the NIS cannot be achieved.
With this mind, the Public Investment Fund (PIF, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia) and Ma'aden (the state-owned Saudi mining company), agreed in January 2023 during the Future Minerals Forum to form a joint venture to invest in mining assets around the world. The new venture will invest initially in iron ore, copper, nickel and lithium projects as a non-operating partner taking minority positions. It will retain the flexibility to expand into projects involving critical minerals such as cobalt, graphite and nickel in the longer-term, and as plans to build a battery chemicals and electric vehicle hub within Saudi Arabia come to fruition.
This joint venture will focus mainly on mining projects in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia, which together have substantial, untapped resources and reserves of most of the world's critical minerals.
The two partners in the JV complement each other perfectly. As one of the world's largest mining companies, with a market cap of roughly $50 billion, Ma'aden is capable of performing due diligence on the geological and technical aspects of prospective investments. And as one of the world's largest sovereign wealth funds, with around $600 billion in total assets, the PIF brings crucial investment resources and expertise.
Ma'aden had already set to work investing in critical minerals projects in the broader region. In January 2023 it agreed to acquire a 9.9 percent stake in Ivanhoe Electric - the firm led by Robert Friedland that has been instrumental in some of the world's most notable mineral discoveries and mine developments. Additionally, it has formed a separate joint venture with Ivanhoe to explore for copper, gold, silver and battery metals in Saudi Arabia, with the added option of using Ivanhoe's Typhoon technology to perform in-depth geophysical surveys.
Supply deficits are expected in the near-term for critical minerals such as lithium, cobalt and copper, as orders from electric vehicle makers and renewable technology firms contribute to soaring demand on the one hand, and a lack of prior investment in mine projects restricts supply on the other.
Many countries now recognise the urgent need to invest in mineral supply. Through billions of dollars of investments in the mineral value chain - from critical minerals projects at home and abroad to mineral processing and, ultimately, manufacturing of industrial projects - Saudi Arabia intends to be a major player in the development of future technologies manufactured from critical raw materials.