Move to ban raw lithium exports amid scramble
GOVERNMENT is currently working on a statutory instrument to ban exports of raw or unprocessed lithium amid a scramble for the natural resource widely available across Zimbabwe, including on the mineral-rich Great Dyke, The NewsHawks has established.
Zimbabwe’s mining sector is highly diversified, with close to 40 different minerals. The country is well-endowed with natural resources, but poor in vision and leadership, hence the majority are wallowing in poverty amid plenty that includes diamonds, gold, chrome, black granite and lithium, among many other minerals.
Mining industry sources say the government, shocked by the scramble to export lithium mainly to China, is working on a law which will be called the Mines and Minerals (Prohibition Order of Exportations of Unbeneficiated Lithium and Lithium-bearing Ores, Including Eluvial and Alluvial Notice, 2022) to ban exports of unprocessed lithium.
The sources said Mines and Mining Development minister Winston Chitando will in terms of section 3(a) of the Base Minerals Export Control Act [Chapter 21:01] prohibit lithium exports just like there is a ban on raw chrome exports.
Zimbabwe still uses an archaic mining law, passed in 1961, to regulate a commodity touted as the next technological game-changer. The Mines and Minerals Act, which gives the President of the country carte blanche over all mineral resources, is woefully inadequate as an arbiter of beneficial ownership and control.
The scramble for lithium is currently intensifying, with Zimbabweans extracting the mineral in places like Mutoko, Mberengwa, Shurugwi, Mvuma, Zvishavane, Bikita and Kamativi, among other places.
Lithium, dubbed white gold by some, is critical to batteries that power electric vehicles, with a huge market in the United States and China, the world’s two biggest economies. Chinese energy firms have grabbed controlling stakes in lithium mines.
Australia is the world’s biggest producer of lithium, one of the key ingredients in electric car batteries.
Zimbabwe has the largest lithium reserves in Africa and the fifth biggest in the world. There are many lithium greenfield projects, worth multimillions, being undertaken by different companies, with the Chinese leading in that area.
Zimbabwe’s mining sector is highly diversified, with close to 40 different minerals. The predominent minerals include platinum group metals (PGM), chrome, gold, coal, and diamonds.
The country boasts the second-largest platinum deposit and high-grade chromium ores in the world, with approximately 2.8 billion tonnes of PGM and 10 billion tonnes of chromium ore. Mining accounts for about 12% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), and the minister of Mines claims the sector has the potential to generate US$12 billion annually by 2023 if the government addresses challenges such as persistent power shortages, foreign currency shortages, and policy uncertainties.
Due to the growing importance of the mineral, many now say the gold rush is back, but this time the focus is on “white gold” lithium — a strategic mineral in the world’s shift toward green energy.
The metal has been referred to as “the new gasoline” in view of its use in electric vehicle batteries, but it is also used in smartphones, laptops, airpods, electric toothbrushes, smart watches, e-cigarettes, pacemakers and other devices.
The metal is in the midst of a boom. Prices have surged roughly 500% year over year, triggering a global race to find and extract more. Lithium can be used in ceramics, greases and pharmaceuticals, but it is best known as the material in batteries for cellphones, laptops and EVs.
The rechargeable batteries take advantage of lithium’s light weight (it is the lightest of all metals) and high electrochemical potential. Production in 2021 was up 21% from the year prior, while global consumption of lithium was up 33%, according the United States Geological Survey.
While the US has significant lithium sources, it imports most lithium from countries like Argentina, Chile, China and Russia.
The only domestic lithium production comes from one brine operation in Nevada. The only downside in that lithium mining can lead to groundwater contamination and jeopardise ecosystems.