The Sunday Mail
Senior Business Reporter
A US$450 million lithium salt plant with an initial annual production capacity of 30 000 tonnes will be developed in Mapinga, Mashonaland West province under the proposed US$13 billion mine-to-energy industrial park.
Mines and Mining Development Minister Winston Chitando said this in his remarks in Buhera district during a groundbreaking ceremony for the new US$130 million Sabi Star Lithium Mine project that was presided over by President Mnangagwa last week.
In September, the Government and two Chinese investors – Eagle Canyon International Group Limited and Pacific Goal Investment, signed a Memorandum of Understanding paving way for the establishment of the mine-to-energy industrial park project, which is the first of its kind in Zimbabwe.
The mine-to-energy industrial park that will also include the construction of two 300MW power stations, a coking plant, graphite processing plant, nickel chromium alloy smelter, and a nickel sulphate plant is expected to be operational by 2024 and is the first of its kind in Zimbabwe. It is being developed on a 5 000-hectare piece of land from which 1 000ha will be utilised by Eagle Canyon while the remainder would accommodate investments by other investors.
Eagle Canyon has started inviting partners that have capacity to invest in Zimbabwe under the mine-to-energy industrial park initiative.
It is hoped that the project will boost the economy through mineral beneficiation as well as support the clean energy drive in line with the National Development Strategy 1.
“The lithium concentrate produced from this mine will feed into the Mapinga minerals-to-energy park, where a lithium salt plant with an estimated cost of US$450 million will be constructed.
“The lithium salt plant will have a production of 30 000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide and the capacity is to expand to over 130 000 tonnes of lithium carbonate and/or lithium hydroxide per annum,” said Minister Chitando.
Zimbabwe has the largest lithium reserves in Africa and the fifth-largest deposits worldwide.
Minister Chitando said lithium mining in Zimbabwe is on the rise with several projects in the exploration phase forecasted to start production next year.
He said an estimated US$4 million had been spent on the exploration programme at the Sabi Star Lithium Mine, which is owned by MaxMind Investments, a subsidiary of Eagle Canyon.
“Exploration work (geological mapping, trenching, and drilling) carried out by Max Mind (Pvt) Ltd has enabled the definition of a resource with +/- 5 tonnes of lithium-tantalum ore at 1,86 percent Li2O and 294g/t Ta2O5.
“The area shows great potential for more lithium and tantalite resources which could be unlocked through further systematic exploration efforts.
“Production is anticipated to start in 2023 at a rate of 3 000 tonnes a day. An exploration fund of US$20 to 50 million has been set up to grow the Sabi Star resource through acquisition of additional ground and continued exploration this will expand the life of the mine,” said Minister Chitando, adding that expansion of the mine will aid towards the global demand for lithium to meet the needs for batteries in plug-in electric vehicles and grid-scale energy storage.
Towards value addition and beneficiation, he said, the company plans to smelt lithium concentrate into lithium hydroxide locally, and this would require an envisaged investment of US$250 million plus reliable, clean energy.
MaxMind (Pvt) Ltd plans to install 12MW to feed its plant. “Lithium is the energy mineral of the future as the world moves towards a greener economy.
“The mineral is embedded into a global sustainability transition.
“Lithium is in high demand as an essential raw material for the lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles, as more countries move to cut their carbon footprint,” he said.