Major recent transactions involving Zimbabwean lithium assets have raised strong public interest.
Among these deals are Prospect Resources’ US$422 million acquisition by China’s Huayou Cobalt, and Sinomine’s US$180 million takeover of Bikita Minerals, Zimbabwe’s oldest petalite producer.
So, what lithium projects do we have Zimbabwe? Here are some of the ongoing lithium projects, at various stages of development, that you must know about.
Arcadia Lithium MIne
The Goromonzi mine was explored by Prospect Resources, listed on the Australian stock exchange. Prospect broke ground at Arcadia Mine in 2018.
The company raised money from shareholders for exploration, spending close to US$26 million to confirm the resource. It signed offtake agreements with major buyers, including Sinomine of China, and Belgium’s Sibelco, one of the world’s biggest ceramics companies, to secure markets for future production.
The company was granted Special Economic Zone status in 2019, which gave it generous tax breaks for ten years. Prospect installed a pilot plant in July 2021 and shipped samples of petalite to Sibelco. The company exported samples of processed lithium carbonate.
As many exploration companies do, Prospect began looking for a larger buyer to take the project forward. The company first announced plans to sell in 2019. It did so in December 2021 with the US$422 million deal with Huayou.
Huayou has started construction, and plans to “rapidly” develop it under a US$300 million investment. This includes a processing plant with a capacity to treat around 4.5 million tonnes of ore.
Huayou is more ambitious than Prospect’s estimates.
Before the sale, Prospect had set a budget of US$192 million for capital expenditure. Its feasibility study had estimated an average annual spodumene production of 147 000 tonnes. Huayou, instead, targets 400,000 tonnes per year. Huayou’s estimate of 4.5 million tonnes of ore per year is also higher than Prospect’s 2.4 million tonnes. The life of mine is estimated at 18 years.
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This is the oldest miner of lithium-bearing minerals in the country. It started mining in the 1950s.
Of note is that there are two main types of lithium-bearing minerals. Spodumene is what is largely used to produce the concentrates that are used in battery manufacturing. The other type, petalite, is used in the glass and ceramics business. Bikita has so far only exported petalite. It is used as an additive by companies that make ceramics – such as tiles and kitchenware – as well as glass.
Bikita had, for years, been looking for a buyer to expand exploration and produce spodumene.
In January 2022, Shenzhen-listed Sinomine bought Bikita Minerals for US$180 million.
In June 2022, Sinomine announced it was investing US$200 million in phase one to renovate the existing facilities and to build a new processing line with a capacity of up to two million metric tonnes per year.
Sabi Star Mine
This is a mine being developed in Buhera by Chengxin, one the world’s biggest lithium producers.
In September 2021, Chengxin bought 51% of MaxMind for US$76.5 million. MaxMind had been exploring on the claims for at least four years before the transaction, spending US$22 million on exploration, feasibility studies and preliminary construction works.
The company plans to spend at least US$130 million to develop the mine and build a processing plant. The first output is expected in 2023, according to MaxMind Zimbabwe project manager Elfas Mugova.
READ MORE | New lithium developer invests US$130m in Sabi Star mine, sees first output in 2023
Premier African Minerals (PAM)
The exploration company is listed on London’s Alternative Investments Market, which hosts smaller companies.
PAM holds the Zulu Lithium claims at Fort Rixon, about 80km from Bulawayo. In 2021, Zulu Lithium got one of 20 new exclusive prospective orders issued by the Ministry of Mines. This meant the company could go ahead with exploration activities there, which had been delayed by red tape.
Zulu Lithium is believed to hold a 20.1 million-tonne resource base, with a grading 1.06% lithium oxide, considered a good grade by industry experts. A scoping study indicated a value of US$127 million for a 15-year open cast mine, producing both spodumene and petalite.
Premier has hired New York-based EAS Advisors to introduce institutions and funding.
To raise money to build a plant, PAM signed an offtake deal with Suzhou TA&A Ultra Clean Technology Co of China. Suzhou is injecting US$35 million for the construction of a high-capacity pilot plant at Zulu, output from which would be nearly 50,000 tonnes of spodumene concentrate annually.
PAM aims to ship its first output by March 2023 and ramp up production to around 48,000 tonnes of spodumene concentrate a year.
In 2021, PAM bought a portfolio of assets in Zimbabwe from Australian-listed Lithium Consolidated Mineral Exploration (Li3) for US$104 000. The 1500 hectares of licences are on the Mutare Greenstone Belt, close to the border with Mozambique.
PAM is headed by George Roach, a well-known figure in mining.
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Once a tin mine, there are long-delayed plans to reinvent it as a lithium operation. This will involve treating the old dumps to search for lithium-bearing minerals.
The Kamativi Project is a joint venture between the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC), owners of Kamativi Tin Mines which holds 40% of the Project, and Canada’s Jimbata, which holds 60%. Disputes over the claim with a Chinese company have delayed the project.
ZLC signed a term sheet with Transamine Trading S.A., a Swiss-based off-taker, to secure US$9.5 million to cover capital costs of Phase 1 of the first phase of the project. A flotation plant to process Kamativi tailings had been expected in 2020, but was delayed.
The company believes there is US$1.4 billion worth of lithium in the dumps.
Below are projects that are currently in the exploration stage. In future, these may be bought up by larger investors, as has been the case with projects such as Arcadia.
Australian-listed explorer Six Sigma bought into Mirrorplex, which is exploring for lithium in Shamva. A drilling programme to find out the extent of the resource started in 2018. A report on the company’s website says that surface rock sampling have shown at least “five large areas containing extensive lithium mineralization” across the entire project area. Six Sigma is headed by Patrick Holywell, while Mirrorplex is headed by its co-founder, Nyasha Chidoh.
Ireland’s gold and zinc explorer Arkle Resources, listed on London’s AIM market, was in June 2022 granted three licences covering a small area of 163 hectares in Insiza district, and the company sees it as a low-cost entry into the country. “This is a toe-in-the-water exercise by Arkle,” says company chairperson John Teeling, who adds that his directors have experience in Zimbabwe and have examined the potential for hard rock lithium in the country.
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Red Rock Resources plc, a UK-listed exploration company, is prospecting for lithium in Bikita, near Bikita Minerals. Red Rock establisheda new company, African Lithium Resources, in which it will hold 75%. The other 15% will be held by an unnamed local partner. Red Rock already owns some battery mineral prospects in the DRC – it is exploring copper and cobalt there – and its CEO Andrew Bell has explained why Zimbabwe is looking attractive for lithium explorers.
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UK resources investor Galileo Resources is exploring for lithium and gold in Zimbabwe. Galileo set aside a budget of US$1.5 million to explore for lithium and gold at claims held by Sinamatella Holdings. Sinamatella holds claims in potentially lithium-rich area in Kamativi.
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Report by Ranga Mberi