HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — A Chinese mining company formally opened a $300 million lithium processing plant Wednesday in Zimbabwe, which has one of the world's largest reserves of the metal as demand surges globally because of its use in electric car batteries.
Zimbabwe has the largest lithium reserves in Africa and has in recent years drawn investors in battery minerals from Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, although China is the dominant player.
The plant opened by Prospect Lithium Zimbabwe, an arm of Chinese company Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt, has a capacity to process 4.5 million metric tons of hard rock lithium into concentrate for export per year, Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa said.
Mnangagwa was present for the official opening of the sprawling plant in Goromonzi, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) southeast of Zimbabwe's capital, Harare.
"Lithium is the mineral of the present and the future ... and value addition will position our country as an emerging and competitive player in the global lithium value chain," Mnangagwa said. He urged the company to "beef" up expertise that would help Zimbabwe and other southern African countries "eventually" manufacture lithium batteries and other components locally.
Lithium is a key component for electric vehicle batteries. To cash in on demand, Zimbabwe last year banned the export of raw lithium ore. In doing so, it joined countries like Indonesia and Chile that are trying to maximize their return on deposits of lithium, cobalt and nickel by requiring miners to invest locally in refining and processing before they can export.
Prospect Lithium Zimbabwe deputy general manager Trevor Barnard said that the firm aims to start by processing 450,000 tons of concentrate every year. The concentrate will be further processed into battery-grade lithium outside Zimbabwe.