George Maponga in Masvingo

Zimbabwe’s gallop towards becoming one of the world’s top lithium producers continues to gain traction with exploration work at the Sinomine-owned Bikita Minerals in Masvingo, the oldest lithium mine in the country with decades of production, showing reserves of 65 million tonnes.

Sinomine last year bought Bikita Minerals with a US$300 million investment that precipitated an influx of foreign investors eyeing the country’s vast resources of the mineral on the back of bullish demand backed by high appetite for lithium batteries globally.

Sinomine is continuing exploration at its mine in Bikita and the latest discovery of vast reserves at Bikita Minerals have propelled it into arguably the biggest lithium extractor in Zimbabwe based on the size of the resource.

Sinomine says while exploration work is ongoing the resource on which the mine is sitting means it will have a lifespan of between 15 to 20 years from the present proven reserves at the planned higher rates of extraction.

The Chinese firm is excited by its prospects at Bikita that plans are also afoot to build a lithium processing plant to process and value add the mineral that is largely destined for the export market.

Lithium is a highly reactive metal that bursts into flame in the presence of water or moisture, so the final form for trade and delivery to factories is lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide, but factories like the purity of these salts to exceed 99 percent, so there is considerable value in adding the final processing stages.

The firm’s public relations officer Mr Collen Nikisi in his response to The Herald questions on a range of issues at the mine revealed that recent exploration findings showed the mine’s lifespan was between 15 and 20 years but exploration work was ongoing so these reserves were continually being expanded.

“We boast the biggest reserves of lithium in the country that currently stand at 65 million tonnes and exploration is ongoing. Reports that our deposits of lithium are close to exhaustion are incorrect,”said Mr Nikisi.

“From the exploration work done so far the lifespan of the mine (Bikita Minerals) is 15-20 years.”

Bikita Minerals also denied allegations that the firm was exporting raw lithium ore in the process short-changing the country by not embracing value addition.

“Bikita Minerals exports lithium concentrate (podumene and petalite), the concentrate we export is a testimony of the value addition taking place at our mine,”added Mr Nikisi.

The lithium miner has also completed feasibility studies to build a final processor at Bikita Minerals.

“To enhance the beneficiation process and production capacity, Bikita (Minerals Sinomine) successfully completed the construction of two new modern plants (gravity separation and flotation plants),” he said.Ongoing expansion works at Bikita Minerals Sinomine, according to Mr Nikisi, were poised to create additional employment for locals at Zimbabwe’s largest lithium mine.

He said so far 2 000 direct jobs for locals have been created following the takeover by Sinomine, adding that the company had a solid skills transfer blueprint.

He rubbished claims that Bikita Minerals had more expatriate workers than the number prescribed by the Zimbabwean Government.

“We have a skills transfer programme approved and supervised by the immigration department,” Mr Nikisi said.

“Since the coming in (at Bikita Minerals) of Sinomine more than 2 000 direct jobs have been created and in addition over 300 students from local tertiary institutions are on work-related learning at the mine in Bikita. Our immigration file is in order and expatriates at Bikita Minerals have valid working permits.”

Zimbabwe is expected to cash in on its huge lithium deposits as global demand for the mineral surges as due to its efficacy in the ceramics industry, manufacture of cellphones and vehicle batteries.

Currently Zimbabwe is touted as the sixth biggest producer of lithium globally and number one in Africa with the mineral billed to power the nation’s march towards Vision 2030 of becoming an empowered upper middle income economy by that year.

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