By Nyasha Chingono
HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe earned $209 million from lithium exports in the first nine months of 2023, nearly treble last year’s earnings, Mines Minister Zhemu Soda said on Wednesday, as Chinese-driven mining and processing projects take off.
Africa’s top lithium producer, Zimbabwe hopes demand for the mineral, which is key for renewable energy storage, will help revive its ailing economy.
Lithium is set to become Zimbabwe’s third biggest mineral export after gold and platinum group metals, which registered $2.46 billion and $2.27 billion in export receipts last year.
“The revenue generated from the export of lithium grew from $1.8 million in 2018 to $70 million in 2022. By September 2023, a total of $209 million had been realised from lithium exports,” Soda said at a mining conference in Bulawayo.
Chinese firms, including Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt, Sinomine Resource Group, Chengxin Lithium Group, Yahua Group and Canmax Technologies, have spent more than $1 billion over the past two years to acquire and develop lithium projects in Zimbabwe.
Most of these companies have built processing plants commissioned this year and are shipping lithium concentrates to China for further processing.
Zimbabwe’s government banned raw lithium exports last year, as it seeks to get more value from the mineral.
Other major producers are expected to start operations in Zimbabwe in 2024 as the country seeks to expand output, Soda said.
Lithium prices in China, the top consumer of the battery metal, have been on a downtrend for much of this year.
(Reporting by Nyasha Chingono Editing by Nelson Banya and Mark Potter)