Zimbabwe – Lithium production in Zimbabwe recently got a huge boost with the government sealing a deal with an as yet unnamed listed company for a project estimated to generate revenue of $1.4bn over a period of about eight years.
This was revealed by Zimbabwe’s Minister of Mines and Mining Development, Winston Chitando, on the sidelines of the annual mining gathering, Mining Indaba, in Cape Town, South Africa last week.
Lithium is in huge and growing demand globally for use in the manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) and storage of renewable energy. However, analysts’ forecasts suggest that there is going to be an oversupply of the white metal as more projects come on board worldwide.
Mining and environmental consulting service The MSA Group notes that the battery market accounts for about 36% of lithium demand and is expected to grow to 73% by 2025.
Meanwhile, a 2017 International Energy Agency report suggests that the EV stock will range between 9 million and 20 million by 2020 and between 40 million and 70 million by 2025.
“Growing EV sales will also stimulate the demand for commodities needed for battery manufacturing, such as lithium, cobalt and other materials required by future battery technologies,” the report adds.
On the power storage front, a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance released in November 2017 forecasts that the global energy storage market will “double six times” from now to 2030. The report projects a growth starting from less than 5 gigawatt-hours in 2016, to more than 300 gigawatt-hours and 125 gigawatts of capacity by the end of the next decade.
“Zimbabwe will become a very significant producer of lithium,” Chitando said, adding that he is not fazed about the projected oversupply.
Zimbabwe is ranked fifth-largest lithium producer in the world after Australia, Argentina, Chile and China. This is set to change as more and more investors have been making inquiries about lithium mining in Zimbabwe which has some of the world’s largest deposits of the mineral.
"The country hosts some of the world's largest lithium deposits," Chitando said. “I can say over the last few weeks since my appointment as minister, most of the enquiries are on lithium.”
“We have another quoted company, which is quite active on lithium assets, getting close to finalising a bankable feasibility study. We also have two other lithium assets, where some exploration work is taking place,” he also said.
Currently Zimbabwe has an operating lithium mine at Bikita in the Masvingo Province producing an estimated 900t of the mineral in 2015.
In addition Australian (ASX) listed Prospect Resources is busy developing its Arcadia Lithium Project located on the outskirts of Harare.
“Following completion of the Pre-Feasibility Study in June 2017, the company is now focusing on securing off take and funding plans for development of Arcadia towards production, anticipated in the 3Q of 2018,” the company says.
Prospect Resources is not only looking at extracting lithium ore but also at producing battery grade lithium carbonate.
"This is a significantly bigger investment and a technological leap. Nothing of this scale has yet been done in Africa. Prospect Resources have already produced 99,8 percent lithium carbonate under laboratory conditions, a phenomenal achievement - possibly the first time battery grade lithium carbonate has been produced in Africa. On the back of this success we are busy constructing a pilot scale lithium Carbonate Pilot plant which will allow us to demonstrate the practicality of producing Lithium carbonate from Petalite rich ores," said Prospect Resources executive director Harry Greaves
At the same time minerals exploration and mining company Premier African Minerals is seeking partners to grow its lithium and tantalum mining project at its Zulu project in Zimbabwe.