Kuvimba to sink US$220m into developing lithium mine

Oliver Kazunga

Senior Business Reporter

ONE of the subsidiaries of State-owned mining group Kuvimba Mining House (KMH), Sandawana Mines, a lithium operation in Mberengwa (Midlands Province) intends to spend an estimated US$220 million on mine development and constructing a processing plant.

Sandawana mine, which has a long history dating back to 1955 when emeralds were first mined, is being resuscitated as a lithium and tantalite operation, among other mineral assets at the mine, by KMH, which took over the asset in 2019.

The mine was initially owned by Rio Tinto before other investors assumed its ownership over the years.

Addressing journalists at KMH offices in Harare on Wednesday, Sandawana Mines director of the energy cluster Trevor Barnard said KMH launched an exploration campaign at the beginning of this year with phase one drilling now complete.

He said chemical analysis and the assaying work will be done and is expected to be complete in the next two weeks and from the initial exploration results, the resource is estimated to be around 50 million tonnes at a grade of about 1,6 percent.

Phase 2 of the exploration programme at Sandawana is already in progress and expected to be complete by the first quarter of next year.

“Again we estimate that we’ll double the size of the resource by that time. If you put that in context Sandawana Mines with that high grade and with that level of resource size would be a very significant resource in international terms.

“We decided to develop a three million tonnes per annum mine and processing plant at Sandawana Mines in the short term.

“The total capital expenditure for this phase is estimated at around US$220 million and that will take us to be able to construct the plant and all the associated infrastructure . . . that would include road works, electrical power, water, housing and many others until we have a fully operational plant that will be able to produce the lithium concentrate,” said Mr Barnard.

He said the organisation was looking at various capital-raising initiatives to raise the required funding and at the moment between US$20 million and US$30 million has been sunk into the lithium asset facilitating mine development and exploration activities.

Sandawana is projected to be one of the largest lithium operations in the country with a resource size of around 100 million tonnes.

So far, including Sandawana — the country has five active mines of the base metal and these are Sabi Star Lithium Mine in Buhera District — Manicaland Province, the Prospect Lithium Zimbabwe’s project in Goromonzi —ashonaland East Province, Bikita Minerals, and the Zulu Lithium and Tantalum project owned by Premier African Minerals in Insiza District, Matabeleland South Province.

The mining industry is one of Zimbabwe’s economic mainstays presently contributing 50 percent of the foreign direct investment the country has recorded since the birth of the Second Republic led by President Mnangagwa in November 2017.

Following the engagement and re-engagement drive with the international community that the Second Republic has embarked on and the “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra it adopted, it is hoped that more investments in various economic sectors would continue to flow into the country.

“We are also doing further phases of exploration, phase 3 and 4 and the overall expectation is that we would end up at the resource size of around 100 million tonnes in totality, that can’t be confirmed at this stage but that is from our initial exploration expectations and evidence that we found on site.

“From that perspective, this would be really one of the biggest in the world. The next step is the development of the mine and the project,” said Mr Barnard.

“The mine would be because of the purity and because of the simplicity of our geology that we only have one lithium mineral called spodumene, to really build a very basic and conventional mining process.

“It will be an open-pit mine and it will probably consist of various open pits across the resource and the processing plant will consist of typical crushing, screening, followed by a milling and floatation section and then a drying and packing section.”

Under the first phase of the mine development and processing, Mr Barnard said the spodumene concentrate is expected to be between 500 000 and 600 000 tonnes per annum for this phase.

The spodumene concentrate is expected to be at around 5,5 to 6 percent purity and this is generally the internationally accepted product into the battery industry.

“This will be exported through the eastern ports of Africa, probably a combination of Beira, Maputo and Durban because of the volumes that we are talking about and most of that product will go to China for further processing there.

“If we look at the long-term that we are thinking of and we still need to do further feasibility studies around that, we are looking at further beneficiation of that concentrate.

“And the first step would be to manufacture a product called lithium sulphate which is your first step when you beneficiate the lithium.

“For that, you need green energy, some natural gas and sulphuric acid and after that it will be to go to lithium carbonate which is the final chemical that goes into the battery industry and for lithium carbonate you would further need some sodium carbonate, sodium hydroxide and calcium powder and many others,” he said.

Lithium is an essential element in the production of batteries used in electric vehicles.

The global demand for battery grade lithium compounds is expected to spike in the next decade in response to the anticipated increase in demand for electric vehicles.

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