Lithium: next top forex earner for Zimbabwe.
Nevanji Munyaradzi Chiondegwa
The coming on body of Tesla and its electric cars and the promoted switch to alternative fuels to move away from fossil fuels has seen Lithium, a hitherto not seriously exploited mineral at the cusp of being Zimbabwe’s biggest foreign currency earner is the coming years.
Since 2021 new investment in lithium has over US$ 1 billion spent to acquire and develop lithium mines in the country. The first such deal involved Huayou Cobalt of China which bought Arcadia Mine in 2022 for US$422M from Prospect Resources in a deal witnessed and presided over by President Ed Mnangagwa. The company is investing US$300M in mine development and a processing plant. The plant construction was completed in April 2023. Arcadia has the capacity to produce 400,000 tonnes of concentrate per year. Huayou made its first shipment of lithium concentrate on April 21, 2023, on the first anniversary of its takeover.
The next such big investment saw Sinomine acquire Bikita Minerals for US$180M in 2022. The company is investing US$200M in mine development and two plants (spodumene/petalite). Plant construction is expected to be completed in July 2023. The new plant has the capacity to produce 480,000 tonnes of petalite and 250,000 tonnes of spodumene concentrate per year.
Chengxin bought a controlling stake of 51% of MaxMind, the holder of Sabi Star Mine. Construction of a US$130M new plant is ongoing and completion is expected to be in 2023. The plant will have capacity of 300,000 tonnes of lithium concentrate per annum. Another investment was by Premier African Minerals which completed construction of Zulu Lithium pilot plant in April 2023 under an offtake agreement with Canmax (formerly Suzhou TA&A). Zulu is to produce 48,000 tonnes per year, before a planned ramp-up in production.
It is worth noting that all these projects dovetail in the country’s NDS1 and the development of a $12 billion dollar mining industry and that President Mnangagwa has officiated at either the signing, breaking ground ceremony or commissioning of the finished plants.
There is also the firms carrying out exploration in the lithium sector and among them are Red Rock Resources (UK) which acquired lithium claims in Zimbabwe in 2022, and established a lithium exploration unit in the country, African Lithium Resources, to hunt for more concessions. Prospect Resources (Aus) which sold its stake in Arcadia Mine to Huayou, is exploring a new claim, Step Aside, which is 8KM from Arcadia Mine.
In a success story for Zimbabwe is Open for Business mantra promoted by President Mnangagwa and the engagement and reengagement policy success story, three UK-based companies have joined the lithium race in Zimbabwe. Galileo Resources has spent US$1.5 million to explore lithium and gold at claims held by BC Ventures near Kamativi. Arkle Resources of Ireland was granted three licenses covering 163 hectares in the Insiza district so too has Marula Mining also of which entered the Zimbabwean market in 2023 after identifying opportunities in copper and lithium.
To further bolster the success for government policy to engage and reengage, Li3 Lithium of Canada) entered into a 50-50 JV with Premier African Minerals in the Mutare Lithium Project, which has 1500ha of licenses near Sabi Mine. CAT Strategic Metals Corp. another Canadian company has entered a partnership with Zimbabwe Lithium Company to develop the Kamativi tailings facility left by the old tin mine. Dispute with China’s Beijing Pingchang delayed project development.
Another Chinese company, China National Resources which is a NASDAQ-listed exploration company is exploring in Manicaland through Williams Minerals, owned by Top Pacific Ltd and Feishang Group, and are also shareholders of China National Resources.
Several projects earmarked to kick off in Mutoko could see it become a lithium star. The projects include an investment by Chinese billionaire Pei Zhenhua, who owns Canmax, and plans to invest in a lithium project in Mutoko. Canmax already extended US$35M to UK’s Premier African Minerals for the construction of the Zulu Lithium Plant. Moti Group’s Pulserate Investments currently owns 84 lithium claims in Mutoko, covering nearly 10,000ha, and plans to develop a lithium facility there.
Local investor Kuvimba Mining House has not been left out of the race and plans to develop Sandawana Mine. The former emerald mine is believed to hold a significant lithium resource. Kuvimba has stockpiled ore and plans to build a processing plant.
In a move to bolster value addition, create jobs, earn foreign currency, and grow the economy, the Government of Zimbabwe signed a MoU with Hong Kong’s Eagle Canyon and Pacific Goal Investment in 2022 to develop an industrial park at Mapinga. The industrial park will be to process battery-grade lithium concentrate using output from Prospect, Bikita, and Sabi Mine. The Government of Zimbabwe in May 2023 began community consultations on relocations.