Production of Battery Grade Lithium: Is Zimbabwe Ready?

Zimbabwe has been pushing for value addition and beneficiation of…


Zimbabwe has been pushing for value addition and beneficiation of the country’s minerals, with much focus on lithium as the country gears up to advance the green revolution agenda and achieve an upper-middle-income economy by 2030.

Beneficiation is a crucial part of Zimbabwe’s economic diversification, and the establishment of lithium processing hubs, particularly lithium battery manufacturing companies, could immensely benefit the country.

The lithium beneficiation venture is closely linked to the drive for the country’s reindustrialization. Reports indicate that the country’s manufacturing capacity utilization has declined by over 34 per cent, with the government committed to reviving the manufacturing industry through the introduction of Special Economic Zones (SEZ).

The softening of lithium commodity prices will likely affect the implementation of beneficiation plans, as companies may face revenue challenges for expanding mining projects.

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The local think tank Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD), in its weekly communique, highlighted Africa’s struggle with trade injustice, hindering its ability to develop industries while continuing to export raw minerals to the Global West.

“Lithium will become one of the most in-demand minerals in the coming years due to its importance in clean energy and information technology. The country must create a conducive environment through government policy and practice to encourage and sustain investment.

“Zimbabwe needs to centralize the processing of raw minerals to produce higher-quality products, creating jobs and boosting local economies,” stated ZIMCODD.

Economist and trade expert Doubt Chiorora believes Zimbabwe stands to benefit significantly from the ongoing lithium rush but emphasizes the need to enhance the regulatory framework to attract investors interested in adding value to the resource locally.

“With proper investment and support, Zimbabwe has the potential to become a major player in the lithium industry. However, lithium beneficiation may face challenges such as limited infrastructure and technical expertise. The government should focus on creating favourable regulatory and environmental conditions,” said Chiorora.

Is Zimbabwe ready to produce battery-grade lithium?

The government wants lithium miners in the country to aim to produce battery-grade lithium locally and is considering imposing taxes on lithium concentrate exports in the future.

Although currently Zimbabwe is allowing companies to export lithium concentrates, the government seeks to move beyond concentrate production, often shipped for further processing outside the country, mainly to China.

Establishing a converter/plant for battery-grade lithium requires green or renewable power, natural gas, food-grade carbon dioxide, first-class sodium carbonate, and other supporting materials, which are in short supply in Zimbabwe and Africa at large. The Sandawana lithium project aims to produce battery-grade lithium, either as lithium sulfate or lithium carbonates, by 2030.

According to Kuvimba’s Head of Energy Cluster, Trevor Barnard, KHM prioritizes the development of the Sandawana lithium project and aims to make the mine fully operational by the first quarter of 2025. The subsequent stages include establishing a lithium sulfate plant and eventually a lithium carbonate processing plant, with the process expected to take three to four years from the date of full operations.

Prospect Lithium Zimbabwe (PLZ), according to Paul Chimbodza, is studying the feasibility of producing battery-grade lithium.

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“Feasibility work has begun to explore value addition, either through lithium carbonates or lithium sulfate. With these battery-grade lithium products readily available in Zimbabwe, it may be easier to attract battery manufacturers to set up operations locally,” said Chimbodza.

Is battery manufacturing possible?

There is significant potential for Zimbabwe to establish value-addition and beneficiation facilities, such as a lithium-ion battery manufacturing industry, which would create jobs and increase the value of the country’s lithium exports.

Max Mind Investment and its partners are preparing to construct an industrial park to host lithium battery manufacturing plants.

Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt’s Prospect Lithium Zimbabwe intends to manufacture lithium batteries in Zimbabwe as part of its efforts to contribute towards the government’s vision of achieving an upper-middle-income economy by 2030.

PLZ’s director in the general manager’s office, Mr. Yu Long, stated that they will explore manufacturing lithium batteries in Zimbabwe after completing the process to produce battery-grade lithium.

“As PLZ, we will follow the procedure step by step. Firstly, we need to complete the concentrate, then move on to producing lithium sulfate and continue further to manufacturing batteries,” Long explained.

Conclusion

While it appears that Zimbabwe is poised to produce battery-grade lithium, investment readiness remains a concern, particularly with the softening of commodity prices. Prospects in the mining sector suggest that the country may not be fully prepared to produce battery-grade lithium in the next two years.



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