Zimbabwe currently sits on Africa's largest lithium reserves and the fifth-largest globally. Located in the province of Masvingo, Bikita mine has one of the world's largest-known deposits of the metal at around 11 million tonnes. As the demand for the metal has risen over the years, China’s grip on Zimbabwe’s ‘white gold’ has tightened. Further, the demand for energy storage solutions and related technology has accelerated and has naturally led to a surge in demand for minerals such as lithium, cobalt and nickel. Chinese companies have been quick to turn to Bikita and other Zimbabwean mines for the key EV battery components, essentially bolstering China’s lithium battery market share. Lithium prices surged a staggering 438% in April, above last year. The increase comes as the amount of metal used has almost quadrupled over the last decade. But the process for extracting lithium, and a relative lack of investment, have yet to catch up with the rising demand. 

Insights: Lithium batteries and EVs

There are only eight countries where lithium is mined, with 85% of the global supply coming from Australia, Chile and China. Currently, the majority of processing for battery materials resides in China and the country accounts for some 89% of the world’s processing of lithium, for example. And the competitive landscape is consolidated; larger companies continue to embark on capacity expansion and acquisitions to gain share and drive a competitive edge in the market.

The market for battery cells is expected to grow, on average, by more than 20% per year until 2030, reaching at least $360 billion globally. There is also a realistic prospect of the market accelerating even faster to hit $410 billion by 2030. Lithium batteries are emerging as a critical ingredient in the transition to a more sustainable future because of their role in electrifying transportation and balancing power grids.

Battery use is more than an opportunity to eliminate vehicular CO2 and NO2 emissions in a world grappling with climate change; scaling up production of battery-cell manufacturing capacity also offers significant value-creation opportunities for manufacturers, creates new jobs that pay well, and supports national economic growth. From a sustainability perspective, switching from lead-acid power backup to lithium substantially reduces carbon emissions. Lithium-ion energy storage offers a carbon dioxide reduction of more than 20% per kWh capacity compared to the traditional lead-acid technology. 

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