Zimbabwe’s ban on lithium ore exports triggers stockpile buildup

Zimbabwe is one of the top 10 lithium producers but currently produces only a fraction of the worldwide total. (Image courtesy of Prospect Resources | Investor Presentation at Mining Indaba, Feb. 2018. )

Zimbabwe’s ban on lithium ore exports has resulted in stockpiles of the key battery metal building up in the southern African country.

The ban — introduced by the government last December in a bid to encourage local processing of the metal — has resulted in 2 million tons of ore being stockpiled, according to Zimbabwe Miners Federation President Henrietta Rushwaya. Now the industry has asked President Emmerson Mnangagwa to review the ban as it threatens the viability of their operations.

“The unexpected ban has prejudiced standing offtake agreements between miners and international buyers, some of whom had taken loans from their respective countries to trade in these minerals,” Rushwaya said in the letter to Mnangagwa.

The ban has impacted small- and medium-scale miners, but it’s not clear how much lithium is contained in the stockpiled ore.

Most of the lithium from Zimbabwe — which has one of Africa’s largest resources of the metal — is usually shipped to China or South Africa, Rushwaya said by phone. Nations from the US to China are rushing to secure supplies of materials necessary for green-energy transition as the world turns away from fossil fuels.

Chengxin Lithium Group Co. and Sinomine Resource Group Co. are exploring a joint venture to set up a battery metals processing plant in Zimbabwe, while Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd. has invested $300 million to develop a processing plant at its Arcadia lithium mine.

(By Godfrey Marawanyika, with assistance from Ray Ndlovu)


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