• Prospect Lithium defies global downturn, plans lithium sulphate plant
  • Zimbabwe's lithium exports surged in 2023, surpassing government threshold
  • YOY, lithium is down 33%

Harare - In light of a significant 33% decline in lithium prices compared to the previous year, many companies in Zimbabwe and the surrounding region have curtailed their production activities as a means to offset financial losses. However, it is precisely during this challenging period that Prospect Lithium has taken the bold step of planning to establish a lithium sulphate plant, thereby aligning with local processing regulations, despite the downward trend in prices undermining global investment prospects.

The establishment of a lithium sulphate plant by Prospect Lithium is expected to bring several benefits to the company. This includes enhancing the value of their lithium production by tapping into the lucrative market for battery-grade lithium. By diversifying their product portfolio, Prospect Lithium can reduce reliance on a single product and expand their customer base. Additionally, the plant's compliance with local processing regulations in Zimbabwe contributes to the overall prosperity of the country's economy, generating employment opportunities and stimulating local businesses. This strategic move positions Prospect Lithium for long-term growth, increased market opportunities, and a positive impact on the local community.

In 2022, Zimbabwe implemented a ban on the export of lithium ore, although most miners had already initiated the establishment of processing plants. Finance and Economic Development Minister Mthuli Ncube has granted miners until March 2024 to submit plans for further value addition, specifically pertaining to the production of battery-grade lithium.

Zimbabwe has experienced a surge in lithium exports, with figures skyrocketing by 854.7%, from US$70.6 million in 2022 to US$674.0 million in 2023, surpassing the government's set threshold of US$500 million for the lithium industry to contribute towards the overall mining revenue target of US$12 billion.

Currently, Zimbabwe exports lithium as concentrates. Nonetheless, the government intends production of battery-grade lithium, which entails an additional processing stage. It is this stage which Prospect is actively assessing the feasibility of sulphate production.

"I am delighted to announce that we are presently conducting comprehensive feasibility studies for the construction of a state-of-the-art lithium sulphate plant. This cutting-edge facility will not only enhance our production capabilities but also make a significant contribution to the overall prosperity of our country and economy," Zhu expressed with enthusiasm.

According to a recent compliance report by the Competition and Tariff Commission, Prospect has successfully commenced the scoping study stage, which is projected to conclude during the first half of 2024, thereby adhering to the specified timeline for the construction of the sulphate plant, a prerequisite for the Huayou takeover.

In 2022, Huayou Cobalt expounded upon the intricate requirements involved in the production of one metric tonne of battery-grade lithium carbonate. The arduous process necessitated an impressive array of resources and inputs, including a substantial 2,800 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green and renewable power, an estimated 500-600 cubic meters of natural gas, a significant quantity of 2.2 metric tonnes of concentrated sulfuric acid with a concentration of 98.5%, a precise amount of two metric tonnes of meticulously selected high-quality sodium carbonate, a modest yet indispensable 20 kilograms of premium sodium hydroxide, a substantial four metric tonnes of heavy calcium powder, and a notable 1.6 metric tonnes of food-grade carbon dioxide.

During this juncture, Huayou also offered a glimpse into the future, hinting at the potential establishment of a converter dedicated to lithium sulphate production. However, this ambitious endeavour was contingent upon fulfilling all the necessary prerequisites and conditions, with a projected timeline of ten years for its realization.

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