DRC, Mali, Zimbabwe: The race to become a top lithium producer

By Arthur Beaubois-Jude
Posted on Tuesday, 21 June 2022 13:18

photo: TAR/JA

The explosion in the price of lithium has opened up new prospects for the mineral on the continent. But for the time being, the transformation of this resource – which has become strategic for technology companies – is mainly carried out outside Africa. Our infographics tell the story. 

The phone you’re reading this on contains it, as does the battery in your touchscreen tablet. And it is essential for the hundreds of thousands of physical hard drives in the cloud where your photos, videos and music are stored. Lithium is everywhere in our daily lives. In 2008, batteries accounted for 20% of the market share of this alkaline metal. By 2030, this figure will have risen to 85%, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS). As a direct consequence of this explosion in demand, prices have gone through the roof over the last year. The price of a tonne of lithium, which had reached a peak of €6,400 in January 2021, is now at €65,000.

This is enough to whet appetites globally, and Africa is no exception. While world production is currently ensured mainly by Australia, Chile and China (respectively 45, 19 and 11 million tonnes extracted in 2019), the continent should soon be joining the mining champions. The exploratory phases are still just beginning, but the prospects for mining companies are more than promising. At the top of the list of countries on the continent that should soon be supplying the world with precious lithium are the DRC, Mali and Zimbabwe.

Securing the supply chain

In Mali, Leo Lithium, a joint venture between Australia’s Firefinch and China’s Ganfeng to operate the Goulamina mine, announced in early June that it would be listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) with the aim of raising $72m.

A week later, Mali’s energy, mines and water minister Lamine Seydou Traoré symbolically laid the foundation stone for the project, in which no less than $250m should be invested in total. In Angola, which is also well endowed, the Australian group Tyranna Resources announced a few weeks ago its intention to acquire an 80% stake in the Namibe Lithium Project, without disclosing the amount of the planned transaction.

For technology companies, the challenge is securing the supply chain of this strategic raw material. In Zimbabwe, the Chinese company Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt put $378m on the table to buy the exploitation rights of the Arcadia lithium mine project from its Australian rival Prospect Resources. The aim? To start production by 2023.

Turning the raw material into battery-grade lithium is a complex and expensive process. Most projects – with the notable exception of Manono in the DRC – currently plan to send the raw mineral to other parts of the world, where it will be processed. Can this rush for lithium benefit the countries with lithium-rich subsoils? Where are the deposits – both proven or estimated – on the continent? How are mining projects structured? We decipher it all in the infographics below.

 

 

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