By MacDonald Dzirutwe
VICTORIA FALLS, Zimbabwe, May 17 (Reuters) – Zimbabwe has a
small window of up to 24 months to start producing battery grade
lithium and ride the wave of high prices, miners said on
Thursday, but the country’s high political risk made financing
Since the fall of Robert Mugabe after a de facto military
coup last November, new President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been
trying to shore up foreign investor interest in a country rich
in mineral resources but starved of capital.
Zimbabwe, which holds some of the biggest lithium deposits
in the world, has one lithium producer. Bikita Minerals produces
lithium used in ceramics and glass but plans to produce battery
grade lithium once it completes exploration.
Three other miners expect to start production of lithium
concentrates from the end of 2018 and next year.
Grant Hudson, Bikita’s managing director said Zimbabwe
should take advantage of the high demand as well as buyers who
are seeking to diversify supplies away from South America and
Australia, the biggest producers.
“The time is now. People want resources now, people are
looking to diversify supply chains away from these places (South
America and Australia),” Hudson said during a meeting with
mining executives in the resort town of Victoria Falls.
“There is a lot of interest and Zimbabwe has to ride that
wave. We don’t have time to sit here for two or three years and
work out what we need to do. We need to be chasing the investor
money right now.”
George Roach, chief executive at Premier African Minerals,
which owns Zulu Lithium in western Zimbabwe said it would cost
at least $238 million to set up a mine and lithium carbonate
plant, money that could only be raised offshore.
The project is still at exploration stage.
Arcadia Lithium Project, which is owned by Australian listed
Prospect Resources expects to start producing lithium
concentrates in 2019, hitting annual production of 240,000
tonnes at full capacity, executive director Harry Greaves said.
“It is a key, key problem for us raising capital moving
forward particularly into the lithium carbonate plant. So we do
need to resolve that if ever we are going to get true value,”
Greaves said at the same meeting.
(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe
Editing by Alexandra Hudson)