ZIMBABWE’s lithium exports have increased by more than 1 000 percent since 2018 to US$209 million by September this year, Mines and Mining Development Minister Zhemu Soda has revealed.
With the largest lithium deposits in Africa and ranking seventh in production in the world, Zimbabwe continues to ramp up production amid growing demand for the mineral. Active producers in the country include Bikita Minerals, Prospect Lithium Zimbabwe and Sabi Star.
Several other major producers are expected to start operations next year and these will contribute to the expansion of the local lithium sector.
The rise in demand for lithium and battery minerals is due to the global growth of green energy industries that are involved in the manufacture of electric motor vehicles and energy storage devices among others.
The mining sector is one of Zimbabwe’s key industries and is expected to anchor the country towards an upper middle-income economy by 2030. The Government had a target to grow mining to a US$12 billion mining industry by the end of this year, buoyed by strategic minerals that include gold, platinum, diamond, and lithium, among others.
Speaking at the Zimbabwe School of Mines Lithium and Battery Minerals Conference in Bulawayo yesterday, Minister Soda said Zimbabwe’s mining industry was expected to make a significant contribution to the country’s attainment of Vision 2030’s goal of becoming an upper middle-income economy.
To that end, lithium and battery minerals such as tantalum, graphite, nickel, manganese and tin are expected to contribute hugely to the mining sector’s expansion.
“The exports of lithium have increased significantly from 2018 up to 2022. The respective exports revenue generated from the export of lithium during these years grew from US$1,8 million in 2018 to US$70 million in 2022.
“By September 2023 a total of US$209 million had been realised from lithium exports which is a very impressive improvement; materials making up batteries are expected to have significant market expansion in the near future as their importance for the global energy transition increases,” he said.
As a consequence, Minister Soda said the manufacture of energy storage devices, mobile phones and electric motor vehicles, along with the widespread growing use of green energy, have all resulted in an increase in the demand for lithium and battery minerals in recent years.
He said this means lithium and battery minerals will be the most sought-after minerals for a long period of time.
The rise in demand for lithium and battery minerals has presented a number of opportunities for Zimbabwe as a nation,’ he said.
“These opportunities stem from the fact that our nation is blessed with an abundance of lithium resources making it one of the top producers in Africa and the World.
“As I have previously mentioned, the demand for materials used to manufacture lithium-ion batteries has increased dramatically.
“Due to this demand, new investors, both local and foreign, have entered the sector to mine, process and export lithium and battery minerals from Zimbabwe.”
Minister Soda noted that the lithium and battery minerals have the potential to power Zimbabwe’s future through the exploitation of all the available opportunities in the sector.
He said numerous opportunities exist for local Zimbabweans and foreign investors and these include mineral exploitation.
“At this moment, Zimbabwe is under-explored when it comes to mineral findings. Exploration of our vast mineral resources results in increased revenue generation.
“Our country can boost its revenue generation by investing in the exploration and discovery of new battery mineral deposits that can be extracted and sold to global markets.
“It is important to note that investors wishing to invest in highly promising companies are often attracted to mineral exploration projects. Successful exploration of our mineral resources therefore leads to long-term investments by foreign companies as exemplified by the recent commissioning of the Prospect Lithium Zimbabwe and Sabi Star Lithium mines and processing plants.
“Most of these foreign companies have injected a total of above US$600 million into the various projects,” said Minister Soda.
Other notable sustainable benefits of mineral exploration include employment creation, economic diversification and technology transfer.
He said there are various opportunities in the mining sector and the Government is working to ensure operations of these lead to Sustainable Development.
Mining opportunities are available in greenfield and brownfield projects.
“In the already existing brownfield projects mines require retooling and new technology so as to increase the efficiency and productivity.
“Also there is an opportunity in the resuscitation of closed mines and expansion of the operations of existing mines.
“The Government through the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development has worked on policies to regulate the mining of lithium and other battery minerals.
“Firstly, a ban on the export of raw base mineral ores, including lithium and other base minerals, was introduced to stop their rampant exportation in raw form.
“The move by the Government was aimed at halting these exports to ensure more value is realised from the vast lithium and battery mineral reserves discovered so far in the country,” said Minister Soda.
In December last year, the Government banned the export of raw lithium to encourage investment in local processing facilities as well as to avert the smuggling of the sought-after mineral to South Africa and the United Arab Emirates, costing the country US$1,8 billion in lost mining earnings.
“Secondly Statutory Instrument 57 of 2023 was gazetted with regards to lithium mining and processing. It gives the requirements for one to export lithium in great detail.
“The ban and introduction of the Lithium Ore Policy presented an opportunity to the mining industry to invest in value addition and beneficiation.
“It is crucial to remember that value addition and beneficiation of raw ores provides numerous advantages for our country.
“These include generating more employment, raising revenue, reducing the trade imbalance, and most crucially, raising Zimbabwe’s Gross Domestic Product level.
“All of these advantages are consistent with National Development Strategy 1 (NDS 1) objectives and will help realise Vision 2030.”
Minister Soda said the Government is working hard to move lithium and battery mineral products up the value chain and ongoing policy and legislative reforms are underway to make sure the country succeeds in doing so.
This initiative opens up a number of options for projects involving beneficiation and value addition, which enables the mining sector to realise full mineral potential and contribute to sustainable development.