Taking stock | Zimbabwe’s US$700m lithium deals

Huayou announced plans to build new battery plants for US$1.2bn, and is looking for more lithium supply

Lithium developers around the world are rushing to secure supplies of lithium, as demand for electric vehicles drives up prices. Last year, lithium prices rose 400% in China, the largest consumer of the product. This has driven many suppliers to become more aggressive in their search for new lithium deposits.

Zimbabwe, which has lithium potential, is one of the markets these companies are looking to.

Since November 2021, the country has seen a rush of lithium transactions, with total values of around US$700 million. Here, newZWire lists the deals so far.

Nov 2021: Chengxin opens deal season with Sabi buy

Chengxin, a company listed on the Shenzhen stock exchange in China, announces that its subsidiary, Shengyi International, is to buy a 51% stake in MaxMind Hong Kong for US$76.5 million. A subsidiary of MaxMind Hong Kong owns the mining rights for a total of 40 rare metal blocks. These sit on a total area of 2,637 hectares across the Sabi Star lithium-tantalum project.

Chengxin says it has explored five of the mining rights blocks, with a cumulative total of 6.883 million metric tonnes of ore resources identified, including 1.231 million metric tonnes of proven resources, 2.534 million tonnes of controlled resources, and 2.918 million metric tonnes of inferred resources.

The Sabi project is initially planned to produce about 200,000 tonnes of lithium concentrate per year, and development of the mine is expected to start this year.

The company has started building the mine, in Buhera, under a US$130 million investment.

December 2021: Huayou’s US$422 million deal for Arcadia

Huayou announces that it is paying US$422 million for the Arcadia Mine from Prospect Resources, the Australian-listed company that was developing the project near Goromonzi. It is a big win for Prospect Resources, which had spent about US$26 million on exploration and evaluation. That transaction piques the interest of other explorers, keen to also ride on rising global demand for lithium.

The transaction was completed in April. Prospect is using part of the sale proceeds to explore for its next lithium project. It has begun exploration on the Step Aside Project, just 8km north of Arcadia.

Huayou is spending US$300 million to develop the mine and expects first lithium production in 2023.

ANALYSIS | What you need to know: Chinese battery giant is buying Zimbabwe’s Arcadia lithium mine for US$422m

Feb 2022: Sinomine joins queue with US$180m deal for Bikita Minerals

Sinomine Resource Group announces it is spending US$180 million to buy a controlling stake in Bikita Minerals, Zimbabwe’s oldest petalite producer.

Bikita is 74% owned by African Metals Management Services and Southern African Metals, owned by German investor Wilfried Pabst. The other shareholders are Dzikamai Mavhaire​​ (16%) and Nehemiah Mutendi (5.25%).

Sinomine says the acquisition is necessary to “increase the company’s lithium mineral resource reserves, improve the company’s lithium salt business raw material self-sufficiency rate”.

The deal is awaiting approval by regulators.

This would not Sinomine’s first dance with Zimbabwean lithium.

In 2018, Sinomine, bought a 10% stake in Prospect and agreed to buy up to 390 000 tonnes of spodumene concentrate and over one million tonnes of petalite over seven years. After Prospect sold to Huayou, that agreement was cancelled. Sinomine was paid US$8 million for the cancellation.

Bikita exports petalite, which is used to make ceramics – such as tiles and kitchenware – as well as glass. The petalite Bikita exports is fully beneficiated; it is added as it is in manufacturing. 

The company does not yet mine spodumene, which bears the lithium used by battery manufacturers. Bikita Minerals has been exploring whether the spodumene resources it has are commercially viable, exploration Sinomine would want to expand. Should the results turn out positive, Bikita had planned to set up a US$150 million plant to process the mineral.

China’s Sinomine joins queue of lithium buyers with US$180m deal for Bikita Minerals

March 2022: UK’s Red Rock jumps in

Red Rock Resources plc, a UK-listed exploration company, acquires lithium claims in Zimbabwe and says it is setting up a lithium exploration unit in the country to hunt for more.

The company, quoted on London’s AIM market for smaller companies, buys land in Bikita, near where Bikita Minerals has already been mining petalite. Red Rock will establish a new company, African Lithium Resources (ALR), 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.

Zimbabwe mining lithium
Trucks at Bikita lithium mine: Zimbabwe hoping to become a major lithium producer

March 2022: British company Galileo starts exploration

UK resources investor Galileo Resources starts exploring for lithium and gold in Zimbabwe after being granted the option to acquire 51% of a local prospecting firm.

Galileo, listed in London, will spend US$1.5 million to explore for lithium and gold at claims held by BC Ventures over the next two years.

BC Ventures’ unit Sinamatella Holdings was one of the companies granted Exclusive Prospecting Orders in March 2021. Sinamatella holds an EPO for a potentially lithium-rich area in Kamativi, as well as another two EPOs for two gold areas near Bulawayo. This will be the company’s first time in Zimbabwe.

UK firm joins Zimbabwe lithium exploration bandwagon with a deal for Kamativi prospect

April 2022: Premier African Minerals signs lithium JV

UK-listed Premier African Minerals (PAM) signs a binding joint venture agreement with Li3 Resources for a lithium project in Zimbabwe. Li3 Resources of Australia, which sold the portfolio of assets to PAM earlier in 2021, will purchase a 50% interest in Premier African’s hard-rock lithium assets in the Mutare Greenstone Belt in Zimbabwe.

Li3 has until the end of December this year to purchase the stake by spending US$250,000 on exploration.

PAM already holds the Zulu Lithium claims at Fort Rixon, about 80km from Bulawayo.

ALSO READ | 5 Lithium projects in Zimbabwe you need to know about