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Africa Gears Up To Keep More Of The Profits From Lithium Boom

By: Staff writer
Mines minister Tom Alweendo says that Namibia is going to insist on local processing with regard to its lithium.
Alweendo said this while attending the Investing in African Mining Indaba in Cape Town.
A number of companies in Namibia, including Xinfeng Investment and Askari Metals, have stakes in the resource as lithium-rich African countries, including Namibia and Zimbabwe are trying to develop processing and refining industries to capture more of the profits of global demand for the battery material.
“We are saying to ourselves, if you have got the minerals that everybody wants now, you need to make sure that at least you probably mine those minerals differently and not in the usual manner. We are going to insist that all lithium mined within the country has to be processed in the country,” Alweendo said.
The demand for lithium has shot up in recent years. China, the world’s top lithium refiner and a leading producer dominates the supply chain, but Western governments and international companies are trying to challenge that and see Africa’s lithium reserves as an opportunity.
African countries are trying to retain more of the value of their resources than they have in the past, including not just mining them but processing them before export, which economically is referred to as beneficiation.
Last month, Zimbabwe banned all lithium exports after the government said it was losing 1.7 billion euros from exporting it as a raw mineral and not processing it into batteries in-country.
In Namibia, the government came under scrutiny after allowing tons of lithium to be shipped out of the country without an export licence.
Africa’s lithium production is set to rapidly increase this decade. From 40,000 tonnes this year, the continent will likely produce 497,000 tonnes in 2030, commodities trader Trafigura estimates, with the bulk of that coming from Zimbabwe.
Prices for lithium more than doubled last year as demand from the electric vehicle industry outstripped supply.
“We made plans to only allow the export of concentrates,” Zimbabwe’s mining minister Winston Chitando told Reuters. “Because of the ban, other investors have come in wanting to mop up lithium ores and develop them to concentrate.”
Mining has often been linked to the exploitation of workers or environmental degradation by foreign powers. In his visit to Democratic Republic of Congo, Pope Francis at the end of January condemned the “poison of greed” for mineral resources that has exacerbated conflict in the country’s east.
The latest effort by African governments is far from the first time they have resolved to retain more of the value of their mineral wealth, which ultimately should boost tax revenue, encourage new businesses and add jobs.
The global transition away from fossil fuels is giving a sense of urgency, although many obstacles remain, notably insufficient electricity supply.
As companies and investors around the world focus on goals to reduce carbon emissions and increase supplies of the minerals that should help, companies and investors are reconsidering projects they may have previously overlooked.
“These are really unique times we are living in, with this whole transition to a clean energy future and Ghana could be part of this story,” Len Kolff, interim chief executive officer at Atlantic Lithium, said.
The company’s Ewoyaa mine project is set to be the first lithium producer in the West African country. U.S. firm Piedmont Lithium has signed a deal to get 50% of the lithium produced.
“Everybody’s approaching us, like the whole who’s who on the Chinese list and now it’s all the Western OEMs [original equipment manufacturers],” Kolff said.
In Mali, Leo Lithium’s Goulamina mine plans to take advantage of high prices to export two 30 000-tonne shipments of lithium ore by the end of this year, managing director Simon Hay said.
The proceeds would help to develop the project to allow domestic processing, Hay said, with first production expected in the middle of next year to be sent to China’s Ganfeng Lithium.
Additional reporting, Reuters

Staff Writer

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