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Zimbabwe Looks to Develop Lithium Refining Industry

Zimbabwe, Africa’s top lithium producer and the world’s sixth-largest lithium miner, is looking to boost its economy with higher-value lithium by refining the raw material to battery-grade lithium.   

Four large-scale producers of lithium concentrate have already submitted plans to refine the raw material locally, instead of shipping it to China, whose lithium companies dominate the lithium extraction industry in Zimbabwe, according to a senior government official in the African country.

“They are coming forward with plans but these are long-term plans which we are receiving. We have four large-scale producers who have come forward,” Zimbabwe’s deputy mines minister Polite Kambamura told Reuters.

The government has not started to review the proposals for lithium refining operations yet, the official said, declining to name which companies have filed such plans.

Chinese miners Sinomine Resource Group, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt, Yahua Group, Chengxin Lithium Group, Canmax Technologies, and Tsingshan Group are operating in Zimbabwe. After extracting the lithium concentrate they ship it to China for processing it into battery-grade lithium to be used in electric vehicles (EVs) and energy storage facilities.

Last year, Zimbabwe’s lithium mine production hit a new record high of 3,400 metric tons, up by a massive 230% compared to 2022. Annual output has tripled over the past decade.

Now Africa’s top lithium producer is seeking to develop a lithium refining economy, with the government giving miners last November six months to come up with plans to process the key battery metal domestically.

“We are not going to end on concentrates, we want batteries to be manufactured here,” deputy mines minister Polite Kambamura told Reuters.

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China is a dominant player in processing of the critical battery minerals that will help accelerate the energy transition. China accounts for the refining of 90% of rare earth elements (REEs) and 60-70% of lithium and cobalt, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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