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Lithium is used in phone and car batteries and Zimbabwe has lots of it. You should know who stands to benefit from it

The histories of oil rich countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE depress me. Off of one major natural resource, those countries became rich beyond their wildest dreams. 

Zimbabwe may have been unlucky in the black gold lottery but in everything else, we have been blessed. How come we are closer to becoming a 4th world country than to being a 2nd world one?

When it comes to oil and natural gas, it turns out we could be more endowed than we imagined. So, we weren’t unlucky in the oil lottery after all. Apparently, we are sitting on Africa’s largest oil reserves. Besting Libya and Nigeria. Libya’s plight shows that having oil is not a guarantee of success though. 

Worse still, Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world but as terrible as it is in Zimbabwe, we would not trade places with Venezuelans. If not properly managed, including being able to ward off powerful countries’ disruptive influence, oil reserves can be a death sentence.

As that all plays out, the (first) world is planning to move away from oil. Just our luck! As we discover Africa’s largest oil reserves, the world decides to move on from dinosaur juice. I know, the move will take decades and the third world might still need centuries to wean itself, so we still can grow rich from it. But still.

That may be but Zimbabwe will not be defeated. Even in our misfortune, we are luckier, natural resource-wise, than any other country in the world. The world is going ‘green’ and electric cars are already making a dent in global car sales. 

In this green future, Zimbabwe is poised to win, we have one of the most important minerals needed to produce the batteries that will power the ‘green revolution’ – lithium.

Lithium

Ah, yes, precious white oil. Lithium has many uses and demand for it is only growing. The most important use for lithium is in batteries for phones, laptops, cameras, pacemakers, toys etc and of course in electric cars. 

This use case is what is driving growth in demand for lithium, the electric cars especially. Smartphone shipments may be forecasted to decline this year but we still expect to see over 1.3 billion shipped. 

That’s a lot of phones, and a lot of lithium right there. Electric cars take this to the next level though. A fully charged smartphone holds about 0.0055 kilowatt-hours of energy whilst an electric car holds 60kWh. A Tesla Model S packs a 100kWh battery. 

The maths works out to one electric car packing around 10,000 times more storage capacity than a cell phone. An electric car battery has between 30 and 60 kilos of lithium. This means although only 4.2 million electric vehicles were sold in 2021, they used much more lithium than the phones. 

Lithium is also used in alloys that are then used in armour plating, aircraft, bicycle frames and high-speed trains. There are yet still more uses for lithium.

So high is the demand for lithium that worldwide lithium-ion battery markets are expected to reach $1 trillion by 2026. That’s just batteries. Man, it would be nice to have lithium?

Zimbabwe can meet 20% of global lithium demand

Come on now, we are so blessed it is actually embarrassing. This country holds Africa’s largest lithium reserves, the fifth largest in the world. Our Mines Minister revealed that Zimbabwe has sufficient lithium to meet 20% of the world’s total demand for lithium ore. 

Some experts have doubts Zimbabwe could become a major lithium producer in the world because of its instability. Oh, and apparently our lithium assets are inferior in quality to other countries’. 

The quality issue shouldn’t matter in the long run because demand is growing so fast that the world will be fighting over our ‘lower quality’ lithium in due course.

China controls the green future

Say what you want about China but they saw the green revolution coming years before smartphones and viable electric cars were a thing. They then made appropriate investments that put them in control of the future.

China controls 50-60% of mining market share and around 90% in the intermediate processing stage of rare earth elements that are also important in battery production. That’s global market share mind you.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has the largest cobalt reserves in the world, by a huge margin. Cobalt is yet another essential element in the battery production process, although some alternatives are being looked at. 

Guess what though, China controls most of the DRC’s cobalt. 15 of the 17 cobalt mines in the country are owned by Chinese interests. Investment in the mines was done before the green revolution and smartphones increased cobalt demand.

The DRC is a cautionary tale though, that country is objectively more blessed in the natural resource area than Zimbabwe. The cobalt and diamonds only seem to have attracted more misery than anything else for them.

Anyway, on to lithium again.

China poised to score big on Zimbabwean lithium

Talking about China and their dominance in the rare earth space, a US presidential envoy said,

It’s absolutely correct, there is a cornering of the market with lithium and other rare earths.

John Kerry, first United States special presidential envoy for climate.

China has only 7.9% of global lithium reserves but they gobbled up about 40 percent of the raw lithium mined globally in 2021. You still don’t have the whole picture, China controls the lithium-ion battery manufacturing process.

They control 80% of the world’s raw material refining, 77% of the world’s cell capacity and 60% of the world’s component manufacturing.  In other words, their share of the battery market – from raw materials extraction to production of battery packs – reached 72% in 2020.

Not content with this dominance, China has been gobbling up Zimbabwean lithium mines. From November 2021 to February 2022 the Chinese went on a Zimbabwean lithium mine buying spree

-Chengxin Lithium Group acquired a 51% interest in Sabi Star Lithium mine in eastern Zimbabwe for $77m. 

-Zhejian Huayou Cobalt, a lithium-ion battery producer, purchased an 87% stake in the Arcadia Lithium Project for $422m.

-Sinomine Resource Group acquired 100% of African Metals Management Services and Southern African Metals and Minerals, which jointly own 74% of Bikita Minerals for $180m.

Can Zimbabwe benefit from this?

Many Zimbabweans have mixed feelings about all this. The West considers us too risky and we remain under some sanctions and so they aren’t investing in the country. This left us with no choice but to look East. 

The Chinese have been investing in this country and they have poured billions into the economy. They have also taken out billions and that’s where the problem is. It sometimes feels like we traded one devil for another, our country is plundered and we have nothing to show for it.

Some of the Chinese companies operating in Zimbabwe have been guilty of environmental damage and the Zimbabwean government does not have the gall to act on that. The Mutoko granite extraction by a Chinese company is infuriating, it is as if there is no government to protect the people from exploitation and ruin.

We cannot ignore the jobs all this investment creates though. Zhejian Huayou Cobalt says it will employ 600 locals during the construction phase, with up to 900 jobs being created when production begins. All in all, we are looking at thousands of jobs to be created and it’s hard to be mad at that.

It’s not enough though, is it? We don’t want the Chinese to just haul out lithium ore, we want a piece of the battery manufacturing pie.

Battery-grade lithium in five years or no deal

The Competition and Tariff Commission (CTC) has stipulated that battery-grade lithium be produced within five years by Zheijan Huayou Cobalt. The CTC said,

The transaction was approved subject to the condition that the merged entity, its subsidiaries, affiliates and successors in title should undertake to produce battery-grade lithium in Zimbabwe within five years of receiving this determination.

CTC

The Chinese company does not have plans to do this and says it would be too expensive. They say the power, natural gas, sulfuric acid and other chemicals needed to do that are in short supply in Africa and the costs incurred by importation would be huge and unaffordable. 

We don’t know who is going to prevail in this stand-off. I think the Zimbabwe government will blink first and the dream of doing some processing of lithium before export will die. I hope that won’t be the case but I’m not holding my breath, not for a second.

Zimbabwe at a crossroads

Zimbabwe is on a precipice, the decisions we make today could propel us to a first world status or to more of the same old nonsense. 

So, dear Zimbabwean, please follow along with what’s happening with our country’s lithium and oil reserves. This is our future in these Chinese firms’ hands. 

It literally is in the Chinese’s hands, the Zimbabwean government does not have a stake in the mines above. Giving up control of such a strategic mineral as the world goes green is a mistake. 

Some point to the archaic mining law in this country as the reason why we remain susceptible to exploitation by large corporations. Experts say the Mines and Minerals Act, which gives the President complete freedom over all mineral resources, is inadequate to decide on beneficial ownership and control of mines.

Furthermore, our burdensome legal requirements ensure locals won’t be able to get in on the action, leaving the door open for monopoly capital.

Go Tesla go

If Zimbabwe plays its cards right, it stands to gain from the green revolution. Assuming that happens, we will all be rooting for Elon Musk and Tesla to dominate the auto industry. I know there are some who hate Elon Musk but with our lithium and Musk’s Tesla’s demand for the mineral, our interests are aligned.

We want to see Teslas and other electric vehicles on every road around the world. We want Samsung to sell as many phones as possible and in no time, even our ‘lower quality’ lithium will be in demand. 

On the other hand, the West could decide that a green future controlled by China is too risky, especially after seeing how dependence on Russian gas turned out to be a mistake.  If they lean back on oil, we have Africa’s largest oil reserves yet to be tapped. Either way, Zimbabwe can come out on top. Will it though?

You should also read:

Econet subsidiary DPA partners with Huawei on battery technology

BYD E6 Review: Enough battery range to get from Harare to BYO?

Econet Deploying Tesla Powerwall Batteries Across Its Network


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37 thoughts on “Lithium is used in phone and car batteries and Zimbabwe has lots of it. You should know who stands to benefit from it

    1. You’re right that it’s possible and that it would take years. Is it probable though? Do you trust us to make the right moves?

    1. It is sad that it is a rhetorical question. They will bleed us dry and leave open pits all over. It’s sad, but most likely true.

  1. I was so ticked off back when those mines were given away. Here we are on the cusp of a global paradigm shift to electric yet we sold off the lithium mines for a literal song! On the subject of oil, I think we dodged a bullet! Its like there’s bad juju attached to oil when it comes to Africa, like an oil specialist demon starts going down a checklist before the first barrel even comes up! “Turn up corruption to 11? Check! Separatist uprisings? Check! Mobilisation of overzealous military elements? Check! Jihadists out of nowhere? Check! Even more expensive fuel? Check! Advanced weaponry and fresh foreign currency ‘mysteriously’ starts popping up in the hands of randos? Check! Infrastructural decay somehow accelerates? Check! Regime change every other week? Check! Check!! Check!!!

    1. 🤣😂🤣 You tell no lie. The developed world needs its oil and won’t let you gather yourself and control your resource. They will fund your demise and loot your oil, Libya won’t recover until there’s no oil in that country. The ‘oil specialist demon’ as you put it, works overtime.
      Now that we have Africa’s largest oil reserves, we could be due a visit.

      1. If they can’t process the lithium here and build a battery manufacturing plant here why allow them to mine it? That the Chinese company does not have plans to do this and says it would be too expensive. They say the power, natural gas, sulfuric acid and other chemicals needed to do that are in short supply in Africa and the costs incurred by importation would be huge and unaffordable.
        Why would the costs go down if only they take out raw lithium out of Zim?
        Zimbabwe must not allow that to happen

  2. I feel like the US is doing China a favor by putting sanctions on African continent.. Africans always ends up making bad deals coz there’s no other choice.

  3. The only reason why China comes to Africa it’s because they know that they will get everything for free 😁😁😁 . Coz if it was about fair deals they will probably go to their neighboring Siberia which has 40% of all the world’s natural resources .. But again the Russians wont come cheap 😁

  4. For emphasis “WTF” are talking about?
    Talking loud and saying nothing aka meaningless.
    Zimbabwe is endowed with natural resources “Exceedingly and Abundantly ” as well as Exceedingly and Abundantly of Alibabas and 1000’s of thieves. Just one natural mineral if managed correctly without corruption would get Zimbabwe 🇿🇼 out of its debt s#it…We could write books all the way to the moon and back about the potential Zimbabwe 🇿🇼 has. Vote wisely in 2023.. New Young Blood is needed.
    Yours Truly
    David Doc Domingo

  5. this was a good read. i think overall this will be a big win for zimbabwe since we will get money from taxing them (like what they’re doing with our platinum mines) and environmental degradation will also be minimum simple due to the geology of lithium deposits which need highly odered mining methods to make the process efficient and yes it will be a while until they start manufacturing batteries in zim.

  6. I am a Zimbabwean national who has lived in The US for over 40 years and interested in the Lithium investment. Have millionnare friends interested as well and want more information. I am disappointed with how the Chinese are exploiting Zimbabwe

  7. Zimbabweans don’t care for Zimbabweans, Zimbabweans don’t care for legacy, for the flag or for freedom. We Zim nationals just wanna be richer than the next Zimbo.

  8. This discussion is very interesting to me and should be the concern of most Zimbabweans. There are real possibilities for our country. Oil and gas are still game changers. The Manhidze steel plant is a game changer. The growing list of lithium mines is a potential game changer. We have to play our cards right. Remember Kamativi tin mine (those of my age!), the Chinese discovered for us that actually the mine dumps contain lithium spodumene so all they need do is process the dumps and only mine later on. Government of Zimbabwe must wake up NOW and declare lithium a strategic mineral. Come on Zimbabweans, let us unite on this one. Our country is poised for great future so let us not let it slip from our hands. Climate change, bad as it is, has given us a chance we could never have dreamt of. Zimbabwe should partner with those external investors willing to bring real change.

  9. I really appreciate this article, Zimbabwe is endowed with a lot of natural resources. The current Gvt has no interest at all on enacting laws to make sure the resources benefit the people of Zimbabwe because they are making secret deals with Chinese companies to line up their pockets. Zimbabwe need leaders not the current ones. Zimbabwe could develop fast given good leadership.

  10. We probably hate to take a hard look at decisions made by our darling political leaders who blunder and pocket every penny thrown at them by the scavengers from the east who have no bit of sympathy towards our people who are wallowing in abject poverty while they have plenty of natural wealth. I wonder if the change of leadership will avail a meaningful paradigm shift in comparison to the same rhetoric of promises that are immaterial for the past 4 decades. We need to emancipate from the Chinese shackles and determine our terms and conditions for the exploitation of our wealth with meaningful gains which will benefit our citizenry without them skipping borders to slave for a pierce of meal while resources are being plundered by these ravenous wolves.

  11. Zimbabweans need to work clever upon the side of mining, the youths must workup negotiate with Zim government or forpce it to stop giving away Zim minerals bc its future being given away to foreign government s

  12. They must not give away this country like this government must think about it before they take any action.

  13. We Chinese companies like BYD and CATL will help Zimbabwe set up the chain of Lithium battery manufacturing factories and accessories of electronic cars factories in Zimbabwe when we are buying lithium ore from Zimbabwe , which will attract talents from Zimbabwe, Africa and all over the world to build a better Zimbabwe where everyone will have their meals.

    When they are meals for everyone, everyone must and have to have their meals

  14. No one can and need eat a cow at one meal

    When there is a cow for everyone everyone will sit down and decide whether to kill it for its meat or feed her with grass so as for everyone to have a cup of milk every day .

  15. The best gift from China to Zimbabwe is that Zimbabwean talents can have and must find out how The east country has risen from abject poverty like Zimbabwe now to a now scavenger.

    There are just too many know how of education government policies and economic strategies Zimbabwean talents can learn from China who are always open to earnest Zimbabwean talents

    1. You doesn’t know what you are saying,for years now we are still struggling in your parents.If we can manage to change this poor minded government we have now chinese will definitely feel the heat.

  16. Only way out is to remove magamba from power.Do you think gamba can stand a chance with an educated Chinese chingori chigamba chisina zvachinoziva chingori nenharo chete.Chero maAmericans vakauya while magamba are still in power,they will loot just like Chinese because once they will notice that the people they are in deal with doesn’t think they are just poor minded,they will find a way to loot.

  17. Chinese, European or American , our problem is not in our investors its in our leadership, they are thieves who only care for their personal gain, not only are they thieves but they are dumb thieves,

  18. Every individual high and low as well as their their country are on the same boat which brings them the same fortune

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