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Major miner Rio Tinto will invest $40.4 million in Sovereign Metals to advance the Kasiya rutile-graphite project in Malawi.

The investment will see Rio provide assistance and advice on both the technical and marketing aspects of the Kasiya project.

Kasiya is the largest natural rutile deposit in the world, an oxide mineral composed of titanium dioxide and used primarily for the production of titanium metal.

Sovereign chairman Ben Stoikovich said the investment confirms the project’s significance.

“This landmark agreement with Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest and most accomplished global mining companies, is confirmation of Kasiya’s place as one of the most significant critical mineral discoveries in recent times,” he said.

“The experience and expertise that Rio Tinto brings will truly set Kasiya apart as a potentially globally significant supply of two critical minerals and take us all a step closer to supply chain decarbonisation and achieving net-zero.

“Furthermore, this is yet another step towards unlocking significant benefits from development of the Kasiya project for Malawi. We welcome Rio Tinto as a major shareholder of Sovereign and look forward to working with Rio Tinto as our strategic partner in the development of Kasiya.”

Rio will primarily focus on spherical purified graphite for the lithium battery market and will have the option to become the operator of Kasiya on specific terms.