Paul Atherley
Rainmakers & Potstirrers

Paul Atherley


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‘The fact that FSDEA has requested the right to participate in any future equity raises is a clear endorsement of our business’

SHARES in Pensana, a rare earths development firm, halved in April 2023 after it nearly ran out of money – an event described by Atherley as “a timing mismatch” between cash in and cash out. Such is the life of a start-up miner with big ambitions. Pensana’s idea is to develop the Longonjo rare earths resource in Angola and ship the material to custom-built processing facilities in Yorkshire’s Saltend. From there it hopes to produce 4,400 tons a year of neodymium and praseodymium (NdPr) oxide, minerals used in magnets for wind turbines.

But the $550m capital cost involved proved tough to finance. For two nervy months, Atherley chased a number of ‘Plan Bs’ including selling a stake in the project to “a major mining house”. By June, Atherley landed on an outcome that relies heavily on debt. First, the financing of Longonjo and the Saltend plant have been separately ring-fenced. Second, Longonjo’s upfront cost has been lowered by deferring $105m in mostly infrastructure-related capital for three years. The balance of the mine will be financed with $80m from Angola’s sovereign wealth fund FSDEA and a $120m project finance loan from Absa, a South African bank. Thirdly, for the Saltend plant, a $150m bond will be supported by Nordic investment bank ABG Sundal Collier. That leaves $100m in outstanding capital for the plant which is yet to be secured.

One conclusion to be drawn from the last 12 months in Pensana’s life is that new supply of ‘battery minerals’ is mighty difficult to secure. As if to prove the point, Atherley said the Saltend plant would now cost $250m from $195m previously owing to “inflation and design changes”.


A mining engineer with a degree from Imperial College, London, Atherley was an executive director at HSBC before establishing grassroots knowledge of Chinese business as chairperson of the British Chamber of Commerce in Beijing, a role he held for a year between 2014 and 2015. After that he worked at Berkeley Energia, an Australian-listed firm working on clean energy resources at a prospect in Spain. He joined Pensana as chairperson in May 2018. Tim George, a former Anglo American executive and former CEO of Xceldiam, was appointed Pensana CEO in 2019.

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