Zimbabwe lithium miners table refinery plans

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HARARE  — Four lithium mining companies have presented plans to produce battery-grade lithium in Zimbabwe, a government official announced on Monday.

According to Reuters, as Africa’s leading producer of lithium, Zimbabwe is pushing miners to refine the mineral domestically to boost its economy.

Currently, Chinese lithium miners dominate the sector in Zimbabwe, producing only lithium concentrates that are shipped to China for further processing.

Government’s Refining Mandate

In November, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube mandated that miners submit plans by March 2024 for refining lithium within Zimbabwe. At the request of some miners, the government extended the deadline by two months, according to Deputy Mines Minister Polite Kambamura.

“They are coming forward with plans, but these are long-term plans,” Kambamura told Reuters. “We have four large-scale producers who have come forward.”

While Kambamura did not disclose the names of the companies, he noted that the government has yet to review the proposals.

Investment and Infrastructure Challenges

Zimbabwe’s significant hard-rock lithium reserves have attracted over $1 billion in investment from Chinese miners, including Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt, Sinomine Resource Group, Chengxin Lithium Group, Yahua Group, Canmax Technologies, and the Tsingshan Group.

Huayou has expressed interest in producing battery-grade lithium in Zimbabwe but stated it would do so “only when the construction and economic conditions are right.” The company cites a lack of necessary resources in Zimbabwe, such as reliable renewable energy, natural gas, and sulfuric acid, as obstacles to refining lithium domestically.

Government’s Stance on Local Refining

Despite these challenges, Zimbabwe remains firm in its insistence on local refining to leverage the projected growth in lithium demand driven by the global shift to cleaner energy sources.

“We are not going to end on concentrates; we want batteries to be manufactured here,” Kambamura said.

The government’s push for local refining is part of a broader strategy to capitalize on its lithium reserves and ensure that the economic benefits of this valuable resource are realized within the country. As the global demand for lithium batteries increases, Zimbabwe aims to position itself as a key player in the battery production supply chain.