Zimbabwe ships ‘Africa’s first’ battery-grade lithium, seeks markets

File: Mines Minister Winston Chitando on a tour of Prospect's lithium lab in Kwekwe, commissioned Feb, 2018

Zimbabwe has shipped Africa’s first battery-grade lithium carbonate, as it steps up efforts to produce and find markets for a compound that is in high demand for use in batteries.

Prospect Resources, the Australian-listed company developing a lithium mine in Zimbabwe, has announced that 100kg samples of its 99.5% battery-grade lithium carbonate have arrived in Australia from Zimbabwe, ready for distribution to potential offtake partners for evaluation.

The samples were produced at Prospect’s pilot plant in Kwekwe, using ore from Prospect’s Arcadia project near Harare. The Kwekwe plant was commissioned in February this year.

“Prospect’s ability to successfully produce lithium carbonate from its petalite ore at Arcadia is a first for Africa and positions the company as one of the only companies to do so globally. Prospect is now able to provide samples to potential offtake partners to demonstrate the quality of the product,” Prospect said in a statement on Thursday.

“With this milestone achievement, the company is now reconfiguring the pilot plant to manufacture lithium hydroxide,” the company said.

Lithium hydroxide, used in the manufacture of battery cathodes, fetches a higher price than lithium carbonate as it is higher demand on the world electric energy market than the carbonate

In November, Prospect Resources broke ground at Arcadia, located in Goromonzi, after a final feasibility study confirmed that the mine will be profitable, with forecast life of mine revenue of US$2.93 billion and average annual EBITDA of US$106 million over a 12-year mine life.

The project needs capital investment of $165 million to develop a 2.4-million tonne a year operation. Prospect is also considering a lithium chemicals plant near the new mine.

[Click to read more on Prospect’s Arcadia project]

To secure a future market for its lithium, Prospect has signed an off-take arrangement with Shenzhen-listed Sinomine, who will buy 30% of Arcadia’s annual production over seven years. Sinomine has already bought equity in Prospect for $10 million and is to pay a further $10 million in advance for Arcadia’s lithium concentrates.

Following the launch of development in November, Prospect executive chairman Hugh Warner said the next key milestone for the project is to secure finance from international investors and lenders.

“As Prospect reaches out to the international investment community to finance Arcadia, we are also working closely with the Government of Zimbabwe to provide confidence of fiscal stability to Prospect, our investors and indeed to the people of Zimbabwe,” Warner said.

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