From Chinese companies to Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk, it seems everyone’s eyes are all focused on Africa in the name of becoming a dominant player when it comes to one of the most avidly-sought commodities in recent history: lithium.
Over the past several months, the price of lithium has soared by nearly 500%, given how global automakers are working to cash in on the growing demand for greener, more fuel-efficient electric vehicles meant to wean motorists from fossil fuel dependence.
As the increased demand for the mineral has resulted in a shortfall in supplies, Musk was prompted to say that the incredibly high price for lithium may drive him and his company to actually get into the business of mining and refining the mineral at scale for themselves.
China in the Lead
Apparently, Musk is late to the party as Chinese mining companies have been doing that for some time now. Chinese miners have made it a point to be constantly looking for alternative sources of raw lithium to ensure that they have enough in supply to produce lithium-ion batteries for EVs and other battery-run machines.
Chinese companies already have holdings in the largest lithium mines in Australia and South America and are now looking for alternative sources. Some of these are located in the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau to the country’s north. However, miners are setting their sights on locations much farther south: on the African Continent.
As of press time, Shenzen-based conglomerate BYD is negotiating the purchase of six lithium mines in several African nations. Another company, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt, has invested nearly $300 million in the Arcadia Lithium mine in Zimbabwe. Located on the outskirts of the capital city Harare, the site will soon have its facility for processing around 400,000 metric tons of lithium concentrate annually.
All Roads Lead to Zimbabwe
Two other companies† – the Shenzen Chengxin Lithium Group and the Sinomine Resource Group – have also invested their money in mining initiatives in Zimbabwe. This nation has a mostly untapped range of lithium deposits.
Zimbabwe’s government sees these investments as a way to ensure their nation’s economic stability. According to government spokesperson Monica Mutsvangwa, Chinese investments will help Zimbabwe weather the effects of Western economic sanctions and enable the country to establish itself as a prime location for the growing lithium mining industry. She added that Zimbabwe would help fill the vacuum created by the gradual replacement of fossil fuel-burning energies by those powered by electric batteries.