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The Untold Story: How a Young Female Geologist’s Thesis is Paving the Way for Ghana’s Green Mineral Future, Five Decades Later

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Mrs Alexandra Amoako-Mensah (left) with Atlantic Lithium CEO Keith Muller (right)
“Mrs. Alexandra Amoako-Mensah’s astounding contribution to the discovery of lithium in Ghana will be permanently etched in the country’s illustrious mining history. Her determination to overcome societal norms of the time and provide invaluable input in the field of geology should be widely commended. Mrs. Amoako-Mensah’s work has been instrumental in the creation of great opportunities and prosperity for the people of the Central Region, and for Ghana more broadly.” – Keith Muller, Chief Executive Officer of Atlantic Lithium

Even today, Ghana’s geological industry remains heavily male dominated. The story was no different in the mid-1960s, when one remarkable young, female, Ghanaian geologist, Alexandra Afful (now Mrs. Alexandra Amoako-Mensah) was just starting her fledging career in the sector.

Little did she know at the time, that her determination in academic pursuit would facilitate the discovery of a critical mineral that could significantly improve the socio-economic status of the people of the Central Region, and Ghana as a whole; in doing so, also becoming an inspiration for women – particularly those in the field of geology and other sciences.

The sixth of nine children, Mrs. Amoako-Mensah was born in 1940 in Takoradi to parents Samuel Kofi Sey Afful and Mary Araba Amoasiwa Quaye Afful; both from Apam in the Central Region. Her interest in geology was sparked from a young age, driven largely by her geography teachers, Miss Finch and Miss Graham, at the Wesley Girls’ High School, Cape Coast, where she studied until 1960, when she was awarded a scholarship to read Geology at the St. Petersburg State University (formerly Leningrad State University) in Russia.

Ignoring comments from some of her peers that the industry had no place for a young woman like her, she persevered with her studies.

“I achieved my dream of becoming a geologist, a particularly male-dominated profession at the time, thanks to the unflinching support of my parents and siblings,” she says.

Returning to Ghana in 1966 with a Master of Science in Geology, she joined the Ghana Geological Survey, where she met Professor Shackleton, a visiting professor at the University of Ghana, who paid a visit to the department.

Recognising her considerable potential, Professor Shackleton offered her admission to Leeds University, in the United Kingdom, to enable her to advance her academic research. With the support of her late husband, Dr Alfred Kwadwo Archer Amoako-Mensah, an economist with the Bank of Ghana, travelled to Leeds to pursue a Master of Philosophy in Geochemistry, which she completed in 1971.

A Ground-breaking Thesis
Eager to explore Ghana’s natural resource potential beyond the already well-established and still-growing gold industry, she decided to undertake a research-based thesis, supervised by Dr. Oleg Von Knorring, entitled, Mineralogy and Geochemistry of Spodumene Pegmatites with Particular Reference to Spodumene Occurrences at Saltpond, Ghana.

Spodumene pegmatites are now widely known to be the dominant hard rock that hosts the element lithium. Lithium has seen a significant increase in demand over the last decade due to its use in electric vehicle batteries, which are considered globally to be crucial in the transition to greener stored energy sources to combat climate change.

Mrs. Amoako-Mensah’s thesis, which took a close look at Saltpond’s potential as a hub of significant quantities of spodumene pegmatite, was published in 1971.

Upon visiting the Ewoyaa area with her supervisor to undertake fieldwork for her research, Mrs. Amoako-Mensah describes the physical and psychological barriers she had to overcome in order to complete the thesis.

“I was almost discouraged when I embarked on the Ewoyaa-Abonko geological project,” she admits. “I went through thick forest in search of spodumene-bearing pegmatites, relying solely on a hand-held compass.

“As you can imagine, the unusual nature of my profession at the time attracted curious glances from colleagues and onlookers alike. The community members, including many women, marvelled at my exuberance and confidence as a female geologist, going where men had previously refused to go.”

Unbeknownst to her, the sites that she researched and documented would prove integral in the quest to find lithium deposits in Ghana many years later.

“Ghana is blessed with a lot of minerals that could be of immense benefit to the country, but most of the mining activity back then was focused on the discovery and production of precious minerals, such as gold.

“I, however, have always been interested in industrial minerals, such as spodumene; even though, at the time, it was not such a sought-after mineral.”

Mrs Amoako-Mensah inspecting rock samples at the Ewoyaa Lithium Project site in Mankessim, Central Region
Putting Ghana on the Map for Near-term Lithium Production
In 2016, on the back of a recent lithium discovery made in West Africa, experienced geologist Len Kolff was conducting a desktop review of the Birimian terrain of West Africa with a focus on pegmatite potential when he came across Mrs. Amoako-Mensah’s thesis.

Kolff, now Head of Business Development and Chief Geologist at Atlantic Lithium (then called ‘IronRidge Resources’) believed that Ghana’s Central Region could hold similar spodumene pegmatite potential to that discovered in the neighbouring country of Mali.

Mrs. Amoako-Mensah’s thesis, which provided a significantly improved understanding of the region’s mineralogy, geochemistry and petrology, and included important references to further academic reading, including to previous trenching and bulk sampling work undertaken by the Ghana Geological Survey, gave Kolff increased confidence in Saltpond’s spodumene prospectivity.

Len Kolff alongside Mrs Alexandra Amoako-Mensah, whose thesis on the spodumene pegmatite potential of the Saltpond area led to Ghana’s first official lithium discovery.
Alongside Ghanaian geological consultancy All Africa Minerals Explorer (“AAME”) and with support from the Geological Survey, he set out to commence initial exploration of the Ewoyaa-Abonko pegmatites, collectively termed the ‘Ewoyaa Lithium Project’, in January 2016.

Although the terrain and several of the names of settlements on their maps had changed or even disappeared from the versions that Mrs. Amoako-Mensah would have used, Kolff and the IronRidge Resources exploration team were eventually able to locate the areas that she had earlier identified. This led to the company announcing the first official discovery of lithium in Ghana in 2018, based on discovery drill hole GRC0004 of 128m at 1.28% Li2O (lithium oxide) from a depth of 3m.

Kolff comments, “Mrs. Amoako-Mensah’s thesis gave an in-depth insight into the mineralogy of pegmatites in the Saltpond area. This was critical to understanding the economic potential of the area’s lithium pegmatites, which proved to be a key part of the puzzle in the discovery of Ewoyaa.

“Without Mrs. Amoako-Mensah’s thesis, and the regional mapping that she completed, we may never have travelled to Ghana for the first time to follow up on, what were then, desktop and conceptual targets.”

Mrs Amoako-Mensah re-examines the site that she mapped decades earlier with Atlantic Lithium’s Len Kolff (middle) and Iwan Williams (right).
Through several years of systematic drilling, IronRidge Resource (which renamed as ‘Atlantic Lithium’ in 2021) worked to increase the confidence in the lithium potential of the Ewoyaa area. A Definitive Feasibility Study for the project, released in 2023, affirmed Ewoyaa’s status as one of the largest hard rock spodumene projects globally, putting Ghana on the global map as a major near-term lithium producer.

In October 2023, over five decades after the publication of Mrs. Amoako-Mensah’s thesis, the Government of Ghana granted Barari DV Ghana Limited (Atlantic Lithium’s Ghanaian subsidiary) a Mining Lease in respect of the Ewoyaa Lithium Project, putting the project firmly on track to become Ghana’s first lithium mine.

According to the Definitive Feasibility Study, the project is forecast to generate over 800 direct jobs for Ghanaians during operation and deliver value to Ghana to an amount of nearly US$5bn over the project’s expected mine life. Atlantic Lithium has also established a community development fund, which will see money generated from the project allocated to develop the communities in the Central Region that fall within the project’s catchment area. Through this initiative, education, healthcare, trade and the growth of businesses and the local economy in the area are expected to be positively impacted for generations to come.

Stepping Back in Time

Atlantic Lithium recently invited Mrs. Amoako-Mensah back to the Ewoyaa Lithium Project site to re-trace her steps and to enable her to see how her research directly contributed to the discovery of commercial quantities of lithium in Ghana.

The visit was emotional for Mrs. Amoako-Mensah, who had never imagined, particularly as a young, female geologist, that her studies would lead to Atlantic Lithium soon establishing Ewoyaa as the country’s first lithium-producing mine, expected to deliver significant, generational benefits for her fellow Ghanaians.

“I never envisaged that my work would contribute to Ewoyaa becoming a mining area and the focus of national discussions about lithium production. During my recent visit, I was amazed at the tremendous change that is underway at Ewoyaa and that, no doubt, will soon come from the commencement of lithium mining operations.

“I am excited because my project work has yielded fruit that will benefit Ghanaians. I am grateful to God that I am alive to experience lithium mining in Ghana.”

Mrs Alexandra Amoako-Mensah’s emotional return to the Ewoyaa Lithium Project site
Publication of her thesis was just one of Mrs. Amoako-Mensah’s significant achievements in the exceptional 40-year career in the industry that she went on to build.

She was a geologist at the former Geological Survey Department (now the Geological Survey Authority of Ghana) from 1966 to 1972, where she climbed the ranks to become the Head of the GSD’s laboratories at its headquarters in Accra and in Saltpond. From 1972-1997, she worked at the former Industrial Research Institute (now Institute of Industrial Research of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research; “CSIR”), where she rose to the position of Chief Research Officer. During her time at the institute, she became Head of the Material Science Division, before serving as a Director from 1987 to 1997. She then served as Director at the CSIR Head office from 1997 until her compulsory retirement in 2000.

Throughout her career, she also served on the boards of many local and international companies and technical committees, including the United Nations (“UN”) Scientific and Technical Committee on the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (“IDNDR”), the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (“GBC”), the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (“GNPC”), the Minerals Commission and the Governing Council of GNPC Learning Foundation. She was also the Secretary General of the Geological Society of Africa between 1988 and 1993 and President of the Ghana Institution of Geoscientists from 2006 until 2017.

Currently, Mrs. Amoako-Mensah serves as the Board Chairman of SAL Consult Limited, a multi-disciplinary water and environmental consultancy company, and remains a member of Women in Mining, Ghana.

A True Trailblazer; for Women and for Geology

Now 83 and a proud mother to her four sons, Alfred, Michael, Samuel and Joseph-Emmanuel, Mrs. Amoako-Mensah resides in Accra.

As the first female geologist in Ghana, Mrs. Amoako-Mensah proved that she was capable of beating the odds and leaving her mark on the industry.

In recognition of her impressive career and the role she continues to play in inspiring generations of women in the world of geology, the award for the Best Graduating Female Student in Geology at the Earth Science Department of the University of Ghana is named in her honour.

With the commencement of construction of the Ewoyaa Lithium Project anticipated later in 2024 and initial lithium production as early as 2025, Mrs. Amoako-Mensah’s trailblazing academic influence decades earlier should not be forgotten.

Her career represents a lifetime of remarkable achievements worth celebrating. Ghana and Atlantic Lithium say, “Ayekoo” to Mrs. Alexandra Amoako-Mensah, a daughter of the country, for her research, thirst for knowledge and pioneering spirit that, through near-term lithium production at Ewoyaa, looks set to significantly improve the livelihoods of the people of the Central Region and Ghana as a whole.

Mrs. Amoako-Mensah recently joined members of the Atlantic Lithium team as a guest of honour at an International Women’s Day event hosted by the Australian High Commission in Accra

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