Friday, 14 June 2024

In Industry

The Lithiumic Future of Zimbabwe

Electric cars will account for 79% of lithium demand by 2030, and Zimbabwe is a Lithium giant from Africa, having the sixth largest Lithium reserves, sitting at 220,000+ metric tonnes, and is the fifth largest Lithium producer in the World. It holds extensive deposits of the on-demand mineral widely used in the automotive and glass industries.

Zimbabwe is the world's fifth-largest producer of lithium, albeit with only a single producing mine.

The rising demand of Lithium is in two areas - Energy Storage and Electric Vehicles (EVs). Most lithium demand comes from the battery sector, and even though demand for EVs was negatively impacted in the first few months of 2020, the EV revolution is a trend that, together with energy storage, seems to be unstoppable. Forecasts for the lithium sector in 2020 looked optimistic, although Covid-19 and its subsequent impact on worldwide production had a significant impact on the rare earth’s fortunes. 

However, with the shift to electric vehicles imminent, many OEMs have battery requirements up until 2024. The demand created by these OEMs, and manufacturing in other sectors, may soon lead to a lithium supply crunch and with it, a price increase. The ability to consistently produce battery-grade quality lithium will be key for producers of the mineral. 

Zimbabwe has the largest lithium deposits in Africa. The production of lithium minerals in Zimbabwe increased drastically between 2005 and 2010, from just 1,100 metric tons, to around 50,0000 metric tons. This production volume has remained steady since then, only expected to increase slightly by 2021, reaching some 65,000 metric tons. Zimbabwe has the largest lithium deposits in Africa. Its two largest mines are:

Bikita Mine in the Masvingo province has reserves of 10.8 million tons of lithium ore and a lithium content of 150 000 tons (1.4%). This mine is Zimbabwe’s largest lithium mine, located in the Masvingo Province of Zimbabwe about 64 km from Fort Victoria, and has been in operation since 1911. It is also seen as the largest petalite deposit in the world.

Then there is the Arcadia Lithium Mine. As of October 2017, the mineral resources of the mine meeting JORC specification are 43.2 million tons, of which proved and controlled resources are 37.4 tons, and pre-mining reserves are 15.8 million tons. It is expected to reach annual production of 2.5 million tons of lithium when deployed at the end of 2021, and the mine expects its lithium deposits to create about $3 billion in exports.

The Kamaviti Lithium Tailings Project is currently in bankable phase, and the Odzi West Lithium Project, in grassroots phase, has confirmed the presence of spodumene in one area and petalite in another.

The country is also host to the Zulu Lithium and Tantalum Project, where historical exploration results established it as prospective for lithium and tantalum, and a target estimation suggested that 1.4 million tonnes of pegmatite at a possible grade of 1,4 % LiO2 may be present. 

The demand for Lithium is outstripping production, despite the highest growth rate since 2013. That means that there is a potential to increase production in Zimbabwe! 

There are three steps for Zimbabwe to take on its path to becoming a Lithium giant – Mining, Production and Refining.

Mining: On-going projects such as Zimplats and Chemetall need to expand their mining activities and add further exploration activities. As these companies expand, the amount of available Lithium is increasing, meaning that we can expect to see some great news from the country. 

Production and Refining: ZLSA and Chemetall are currently both producing Lithium metal. ZLSA is also producing battery grade Lithium hydroxide (a key component for electric vehicle batteries). However, there are plans to further increase production as more infrastructure becomes available. Chemetall has announced that it will be exploring options in a new processing facility in Chegutu which will contain a plant for extraction and purification of lithium carbonate from its lithium brine operations in Kwekwe.

Energy Storage: Zimbabwe has a huge stratum of black shale, which is the largest in Africa. Black Shale is a primary source of energy storage, the market for which could potentially be worth USD2 trillion by 2025.

Furthermore, Zimbabwe has close proximity to its export markets. Being located in a Southern Africa, it can access markets in South Africa and Mozambique with ease, and also shipping ports on the East coast of South Africa are only 200km away from their mine sites. Furthermore, companies such as Chemetall have already struck deals with Chinese partners, opening up future export markets further.

Chemetall is a large-scale mining and refining Lithium producer in Zimbabwe. Chemetall has been producing Lithium since 1997, and is the market leader in Lithium mining in Zimbabwe. They have an active mine site near Harare that produces Lithium from brine pools, but which also have prospects for further exploration of brine pools. That said, Chemetall have also explored the potential of lithium on Black Shale, which is one of the richest reserves of energy storage on earth in terms of lithium content. These formations can be found across Western Zimbabwe and Eastern Botswana, as well as small parts of Zambia and Angola.

Lithium makes up an increasingly important component of the technologies used by ordinary people around the world every day. While demand for these rare mineral crosses many industries, the largest demand is from the international battery sector, and this demand is expected to continue rising.

A lithium-ion battery or Li-ion battery is a type of rechargeable battery. Lithium-ion batteries are commonly used for portable electronics and electric vehicles and are growing in popularity for military and aerospace applications. Batteries are mainly used in various industrial applications such as off-grid and grid energy storage systems, UPS, power backup, machinery and marine equipment, industrial automation systems, agricultural machinery, defence and aviation, electronics, oil and gas, and civil infrastructure.

Li-ion batteries are able to be recharged hundreds of times and are more stable. They tend to have a higher energy density, voltage capacity and lower self-discharge rate than other rechargeable batteries. This makes for better power efficiency as a single cell has longer charge retention than other battery types.

The much higher power density offered by lithium-ion batteries is a distinct advantage. Electric vehicles also need a battery technology that has a high energy density. Lithium-ion cells is that their rate of self-discharge is much lower than that of other rechargeable cells such as Ni-Cad and NiMH forms.

A typical EV battery cell has perhaps a couple of grams of lithium in it. That's about one-half teaspoon of sugar. A typical EV can have about 5,000 battery cells. Building from there, a single EV has roughly 10 kilograms—or 22 pounds—of lithium in it.

Battery manufacturing has been a huge industry in the 1980s and 1990s in Zimbabwe, as part of the components manufacturing of the motor industry in Zimbabwe. With the advent of Lithium, there is a potential of restoring that industry, and propelling it into the arena of larger energy storage products for the Energy industry, to become a global player. Globally, Demand from battery manufacturers is now about 300,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) per year, while there is 520,000 metric tons of existing mining capacity for battery markets.

The Battery manufacturing industry in Zimbabwe has few players, and leading them is Chloride Zimbabwe. Chloride Zimbabwe is a wholly owned subsidiary of ART Corporation and its operations are situated in Workington, Harare. Chloride Zimbabwe is in the business of enhancing people’s lives by providing durable and reliable energy solutions. Chloride Zimbabwe manufactures automotive, industrial and solar batteries and distribute power backup systems. Automotive and solar batteries are manufactured under the Exide brand while the Chloride brand is used for standby and motive market. Standby cells are used for power back-up and motive cells power vehicles such as locomotives and forklifts.

Howbeit that Chloride we to become daring enough to tap into the Lithium value chain, accessing the US$2 trillion industry.

Source: Statistica, Engineering News, Projects IQ, Art Corp