Zimbabwe is on the verge of attaining global prominence through the widely sought after lithium after fledgling lithium mining company, Prospect Resources, recently exported 100 kilogrammes of lithium carbonate — used in the production of electric vehicles batteries — to Australia.
The lithium carbonate consignment is reportedly ready for distribution in the island nation to potential off-take partners for evaluation ahead of large-scale production in Zimbabwe.
Australia Stock Exchange (ASX) listed Prospect Resources, which owns Prospect Lithium Zimbabwe (PLZ), said the exported lithium samples were produced at its pilot plant in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe, using petalite ore from Prospect’s Arcadia Lithium Project (Arcadia).
With the successful production of lithium carbonate at its own plant, which was designed and built by Zimbabwean engineers, Prospect said it will now proceed to reconfigure the Kwekwe lithium carbonate plant from a pilot facility to a manufacturing plant.
The Arcadia Lithium project is located 38 kilometres east of Harare.
President Mnangagwa commissioned the first phase of the Arcadia lithium project, a fortnight ago at a function attended by several senior Government officials and foreign diplomats to pave way for the start of works to build the mineral ore processing plant and other support facilities including houses and offices.
Lithium mining, the President said at the ground breaking ceremony, is expected to be one of the most important sub-sectors that will drive economic growth in the short to medium term.
“Prospect’s ability to successfully produce lithium carbonate from its petalite ore at Arcadia is a first for Africa and positions the Company as one of the only companies to do so globally.
“Prospect is now able to provide samples to potential offtake partners to demonstrate the quality of the product. With this milestone achievement, the Company is now reconfiguring the pilot plant to manufacture lithium hydroxide,” Prospect said this week.
In the production of lithium carbonate, spodumene and petalite ore is processed into spodumene and petalite concentrate, which is then converted into lithium carbonate (battery grade lithium 99.5 percent Li2CO3) or lithium hydroxide.
Prospect’s Arcadia project will hoist Zimbabwe, currently the world’s 5th largest lithium producer with only a single mine operating, to much higher global production ranking and also earn the country hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign exchange annually.
Currently, only Bikita Minerals is producing, but there are four other promising projects under development namely Kamativi, Zulu Lithium in Bulawayo and Lutope Lithium (Hwange).
According to Mines and Mining Development Minister Winston Chitando, Prospect’s Arcadia lithium project, which has potential to become Africa’s largest hard rock lithium mine, will produce petalite and spodumene for production of lithium-ion batteries.
This comes as lithium has gained global prominence as the most valuable mineral for the future due to its use in a number of areas including medicines and ceramics, but more importantly electric vehicle batteries.
This also comes amid growing global push for green energies.
Phase 1 of the Arcadia lithium project, which will earn Zimbabwe nearly $3 billion in exports over a 12 year life of mine, will go into production in the next four months. This will follow initial investment of $165 million. Seventy percent of the initial lithium to be mined was sold upfront.
Half of the requisite funding required for the first phase of the Arcadia project has already been raised while processes to secure the balance of the required capital outlay, which comes on the back of the successful completion of a definitive feasibility study, is in progress.
Based on the proposed 2,4 million tonnes per annum mining and processing operation, the DFS indicates that Arcadia will be a strong financial, high margin project with current forecast Life of Mine (LOM) revenue of $2,93 billion and average annual EBITDA of $106 million over an estimated 12-year mine life.
PLZ executive director Paul Chimbodza said in an interview after President Mnangagwa had commissioned the lithium project that the mining company was looking to secure a SEZ certificate soon.
SEZ, Mr Chimbodza said, was important for Zimbabwe given the cocktail of economic and business incentives awarded to companies in such targeted specific export oriented sectors, industries or sub-sectors.