US$40m lithium plant takes shape . . . as global business community embraces Zim open for business mantra

Source: The Herald – Breaking news.

US$40m lithium plant takes shape . . . as global business community embraces Zim open for business mantra 
Construction of the US$40 million lithium processing plant in Goromonzi, with a capacity to produce 2 000 tonnes of lithium caribonate a day, by Shengxiang Investments (PVT) Limited is expected to be completed in September this year. — Picture: Victor Maphosa

Victor Maphosa

Mashonaland East Bureau

One of China’s biggest companies specialising in battery recycling, Shengxiang Investments (Pvt) Limited, is building a US$40 million modern lithium processing plant in Goromonzi District, Mashonaland East, as Zimbabwe continues to reap the benefits of its “open for business” mantra.

Lithium is the booming mineral in the Zimbabwean mining sector, with world demand rapidly rising as manufacture of lithium-ion batteries soars, and Zimbabwe holds one of the largest reserves in Africa of the preferred hard rock deposits and the most easily accessible. 

Government policy is to do at least the initial processing in Zimbabwe and lithium miners can in any case, cut transport costs significantly by doing so as well as adding a lot of value to the product before they ship it out. 

Because lithium metal is so highly and dangerously reactive,  and will even burst into flame in the presence of moisture, lithium is normally traded, transported, stored and delivered to factories as lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide. Battery manufacturers normally buy the metal in the form of these salts, but want them with almost zero impurities.

President Mnangagwa announced the policy of “Zimbabwe is open for business”  in 2017, and the global business community has embraced it, resulting in numerous new investments cutting across all sectors of the economy while old companies that were operating in the country are expanding their operations.

The development has seen more jobs being created, in line with Zanu PF’s 2018 election manifesto that promised to create thousands of jobs for the people.

Construction of the new plant by Shengxiang Investments, started in January this year and is expected to be completed this September. The plant has a capacity to produce 2 000 tonnes of pure lithium carbonate per day.

During a media tour of the construction site recently, workers could be seen going flat out to ensure timelines were met.

Shengxiang Investments director of operations, Mr Terence Ncube, said once operations start, they will employ over 300 local people. The company has operations in Mberengwa, Goromonzi and Mutoko.

“Here in Goromonzi, we are constructing a lithium processing plant which will produce lithium carbonate in Zimbabwe. This is the first company to have this plant in Zimbabwe,” said Mr Ncube. “So here, we will be processing lithium ore into lithium carbonate, which is a critical component in the manufacturing of batteries and ceramics. This plant has the capacity to produce 2 000 tonnes per day.

“Currently, we employed over 60 local people and once operations start, we will employ between 300 and 400 local people. We are working hard to ensure we meet our target so that processing begins for the benefit of the nation.”

Shengxiang Investments assistant chairman Mr Eric Chen said they will continue to have good relations with the Government and local people. The company was happy to be contributing to Zimbabwe’s development.

Mashonaland East provincial Environmental Management Agency’s education and publicity officer, Mr Astas Mabwe, said Shengxiang Investments was adhering to all requirements and expectations. He said at one point, the company was ordered to stop operations until it obtained its Environmental Impact Assessment certificate.

“We ordered them to stop and they complied. Now here we are as EMA we are happy that we issued them with an EIA certificate and they are complying.

“The EIA certificate is not an impediment to development, but is there to enhance investment in a country. So here, we can see that they have complied with EMA; that is why we issued them with a certificate.”

Mr Mabwe called on other potential investors to see EMA as a friend, not enemy since it enhances the sustainability of every investment. “The worries of the community here were addressed. The community raised their concerns and were addressed. We want to implore the company to keep on complying to environmental laws,” he said.

Zimbabwe has a large occurrence of lithium resources, with a number of mining operations already started in Insiza, Goromonzi, Bikita and Mberengwa with more to follow.

The lithium subsector is expected to contribute US$500 million to the country’s US$12 billion mining economy by end of this year.