KUVIMBA Mining House has kept its cards close to its chest on how it plans to raise US$220 million in capital expenditure (capex) required in setting up open-pit lithium operations and a processing plant in the short term as efforts to address the global climate emergency drives demand for renewable technology.
Lithium is becoming a highly sought-after commodity in the quest to achieve a net-zero global economy.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that by 2030 the global economy would have to have reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% in order to meet the goal set in the 2015 Paris Climate Accords to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C.
Trevor Barnard, Sandawana Mines and Kuvimba Mining House director in charge of the energy cluster, said plans are afoot to establish a world-class lithium mine in Zimbabwe in the short-to-medium term.
Historically, Sandawana Mines, which is situated south of Mberengwa, used to be an emerald mine. Lithium was discovered about 18 months ago and Kuvimba began its exploration campaign at the beginning of this year.
The company says phase one drilling has been completed and the chemical analysis or the assaying is now being done and is expected to be completed by the end of November.
“The total capital expenditure for this phase is estimated at US$220 million that will take us to establish the plant and all the associated infrastructure around,” Barnard said while responding to a question fielded by The NewsHawks during a Press briefing on Wednesday.
“Certainly at this stage we are looking at various fundraising options. Unfortunately we can’t discuss those options now because they are all confidential, but we are having various discussions with some partners to fund this project. We are confident about this because of the significance of the resource. You can’t let a top-tier international resource like this to just lie fallow, you have to develop it. There is an imperative to develop it. Secondly, because of the fact that lithium demand will be growing going forward, so there is a definite reason that we will implement this project.”
He said Sandawana Mines has taken a phased approach in setting up the lithium operation.
“From our initial results that we are getting, the resources is estimated to be around 50 million tonnes at a grade of about 1.6%, depending on what cut-off grade you use. From our information, that is a very significant resource,” Barnard said.
“We also launched phase two of the exploration — the drilling of that is already underway and it is expected to be finished by the first quarter of next year. Again, we expect that we will double the size of the resource by that time. If you put that into context, Sandawana Mines with that high grade and with that level of re source size will be a very significant resource internationally– Definitely one of the biggest in Zimbabwe and certainly one of the top in the rest of the world. We are also doing further phases of exploration — phase 3 and phase 4 — and the overall expectation is that we will end up on at a resource size of around 100 million tonnes in totality.”
Efforts to increase lithium production are now seen as the silver lining on Zimbabwe’s wobbling economy.
While there have been concerns over the exploration of the mineral by some local communities, the southern African country has reported enormous investment in the lithium industry.
“The next step is the development of the mine and the project. Firstly, we decided to develop a three million tonnes per annum mine and processing plant in the short term. The mine will be because of the purity and because of the simplicity of our geology that we only have one lithium mineral called spodumene,” Barnard said.
“We will only be able to build a very basic and conventional mine. It will be an open-pit mine and it will possibly consist of various open pits across the resource and the processing plant will consist of typical crashing and screening followed by a milling and floatation section and then a drying and packing section. The spodumene concentrate, which we estimate to be somewhere half a million and 600 000 tonnes per annum for this phase, will be exported through the eastern ports of Africa, possibly a combination of Beira and Maputo because of the volumes that we are talking about and most of that product will go to China for further processing.”
China has accounted for more than half of investment licences issued by the Zimbabwean authorities during the first quarter of the year amid a boom in global demand for lithium as commercial and domestic consumers of energy migrate to alternative sources of energy, official figures obtained by The NewsHawks have shown.
Statistics from the Zimbabwe Investment and Development Agency (Zida) have shown that more than a third of total investments registered between January and March 2023 have come from China, as Zimbabwe seeks to become a significant player in the lithium industry.
“If you look at the long term that we are thinking of and we still have to do further feasibility studies around that, we are looking at further beneficiation obviously of that concentrate and the first step will be to manufacture a product called lithium sulphate, which is your first step when you beneficiate lithium. For that, you need green energy, you need some natural gas, you need sulphuric acid and then the next step after will be to go to lithium carbonate which is the final chemical which goes into the battery industry,” he said.